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Kleptomania

Kleptomania is categorized as a serious mental health disorder and can result in immense emotional pain if left untreated. If you are a kleptomaniac, you steal items that have little or no value to you. You also feel an uncontrollable urge to perform these thefts whenever the opportunity presents itself. Kleptomania is described as an uncontrollable urge to steal items that are not needed for personal use.

The DSM-IV classifies this disorder as an impulse control disorder (an uncontrollable urge to do something that is immoral and/or harmful to yourself or others). People with this disorder rarely seek treatment because they are afraid to confess the nature of their illness.

It is important to understand that there is no known definite cure for this condition, but there are different forms of psychotherapies and pharmaceutical agents that can help decrease your urge to perform compulsive behaviors such as stealing.

What Are The Warning Signs?

  • An uncontrollable urge or need to steal things that are not required
  • Feeling an immense amount of tension which leads to the theft
  • The feeling of overwhelming gratification and even pleasure during the act of stealing
  • The feeling of an immense amount of shame and guilt once the items have been stolen

How is Kleptomania Different from Shoplifting?

It is important to understand that there is a huge difference between kleptomania and shoplifting. Shoplifting occurs when you steal for the sole purpose of personal gain. Kleptomania occurs when you steal not for revenge or for personal gain, but because it makes you feel powerful. If you are kleptomaniac, you have an uncontrollable urge to steal. In addition, you probably feel tense, anxious and/or aroused when you steal. At first stealing may satisfy this urge, but once you have stolen the items, you may experience grave remorse, guilt, shame, self-loathing and/or an intense fear of getting caught. The cycle eventually repeats itself.

Kleptomania episodes are usually very spontaneous and can occur at any time without you planning them. If you suffer from this condition, you more than likely steal from open and public places such as supermarkets and/or convenience stores. You may also steal from family and friends. Items that are stolen typically do not contain any value to the kleptomaniac. It is for this reason that the items are usually stashed away and never be used. In some cases the items are given away to friends and family or returned to the same place that they were stolen from.

When Should I Seek Professional Help?

You seek professional help when you feel that you cannot control your urge to steal. The majority of people with kleptomania never seek medical treatment because they are ashamed of their behavior. It is important to understand that mental health care providers only report crimes that are harmful and/or dangerous to you and/or others. Most mental health providers will not alert the authorities to your kleptomaniac activities. Seeking medical attention can help you effectively manage your condition.

What Treatments Are Available for Kleptomania?

Kleptomania is difficult to treat with medications alone. If you also suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder or depression, a combination of medications and psychotherapy may help reduce your urges to steal.

The following medications are used to treat the condition:

  • Anti-Depressants (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors)
  • Anti-Seizure Medications
  • Mood Stabilizers
  • Addiction Medications

Psychotherapy:

Cognitive behavioral therapy is the psychotherapy of choice for kleptomaniacs. This therapy helps you identify negative beliefs and behaviors that are unhealthy. It also teaches you how to replace these dangerous and self-destructive behaviors with more positive ones.

Cognitive behavioral therapy typically includes the following techniques:

  • Covert Sensitization
  • Systematic Desensitization
  • Aversion Therapy
  • Family Therapy
  • Marriage Counseling
  • Psychodynamic Therapy

How Can I Prevent A Relapse Following Treatment?

Kleptomania is a condition that usually consists of several relapses. You can avoid multiple relapses by adhering to your treatment plan. If you experience an uncontrollable urge to steal again contact a mental health professional immediately. There are a variety of 12-step-programs and support groups that can help you cope with the condition if your urges return.

References:

American Psychiatry Association. (2001). Kleptomania. Washington, D.C.

Grant, J. E. (2008). Impulse control disorders: A clinician’s guide to understanding and treating behavioral addictions. Retrieved from http://books.google.com.br

Mayo Clinic.(2012). Kleptomania. Retrieved from www.mayoclinic.com