Kleptomania: Compulsive Desire To Steal (Impulse Control Disorder)
Kleptomania was discovered in 1816 as an impulse control disorder and was recorded in the subject of psychiatry.
It refers to lack of ability to overcome immense desires to steal without intentions of personal or monetary gain.
A rare one, but it is a true mental illness. Kleptomania refers to repeated impulsive feelings towards stealing items for no good reason.
This means that these items do not necessarily need to be valuable or useful. The individual with Kleptomania, after stealing, is often faced with guilt.
He might try to return the stolen item or hide it, he might also throw it away or give it away to someone.
But he will never really use it himself or try to benefit from it.
People with Kleptomania are usually financially privileged enough to buy the stolen item on their own.
But they do not steal the object for its physical value, they steal to satisfy their impulse and gain gratification from it.
Kleptomania makes it difficult for people to behave normally at times during work and social encounters.
They are often disturbed with intrusive and intense urges to steal while they are at work or home, making it hard for them to concentrate on their work.
Others may skip work early to go steal, in which case they complain about missing work.
This impulse disorder affects quality of life in all individuals suffering from it, including people without any record of other mental illnesses.
Individuals are depressed and have a more poor mental health state as compared to fully normal individual.
People might even try to suicide due to the severity of their urges to shoplift thinking it will fix their problem.
Note that there is a fine line between Kleptomania and simple shoplifting or stealing.
In case of simple theft, planning is usually done, but it is not absolutely necessary to have a plan beforehand as it can also be impulsive.
While in case of Kleptomania, no planning is ever made, and the urge is an impulsive one always.
For simple theft, the object always holds value, it can be for monetary purposes or any other similar purposes associated with personal gain.
Kleptomania individuals steal objects that are not even useful to them, and they can easily afford it on their own.
Other than Kleptomania, there are different types of Obsessive-compulsive disorders in the DSM-V. One of them is Bibliomania.
An individual showing symptoms for Kleptomania undergoes a thorough medical history and physical checkup by the doctor to reach an explanation for his condition.
There are no tests performed, like a blood test or X-ray scan.
One reason tests are performed is to find out any possible causes behind the condition like any head injury or some other brain disorder.
The doctor may send the individual to a psychiatrist or a psychologist, to provide better evaluation in case of a mental illness.
These professionals will test the individual using specially programmed interviews and various assessment methods to come up with a reasonable diagnosis.
Brain disorders, like epilepsy and frontotemporal dementia can cause Kleptomania as reported.
Psychotherapeutic and psychotropic medications have proven useful in their function to reduce impulsive behaviors.
Some symptoms of Kleptomania include lack of ability to resist the urge to steal, increased feelings of restlessness and anxiety during initial stages of stealing, feeling relieved once the stealth.
More symptoms include feeling regretful after stealing, and repeated urges to steal again and again result in the start of the cyclic event.
The cause of this disease is not known yet. According to scientists, it is caused by certain changes in the brain of an individual.
More research is needed to clearly distinguish the reasons behind this disease.
Apart from this, the disease can be related to some factors given below:
Lack Of Serotonin: It is a neurotransmitter, a chemical naturally present in the brain. It performs regulation of moods and emotional feelings.
If it low in amount, then the individual will have a higher tendency to exhibit an impulsive attitude.
Addiction Due To Dopamine: In Kleptomania, individuals satisfy themselves by stealing and this results in the secretion of dopamine in the brain.
This chemical produces feelings of satisfaction and pleasure, which the individual might like to experience over and over again.
Opioid System In Brain: This system is involved in the maintenance and control of urges or desires of the body.
If this system lacks in its function, then the ability to overcome urges will be affected.
Prevention of this disorder will depend on how much is known about the illness, and this information is not enough at present.
As the cause of Kleptomania has not been discovered yet, hence it is difficult to identify the preventive measures to be taken.
It is highly suggested that one should consult a doctor in case of any such impulsive stealing events.
This will reduce the chances of the condition becoming worse, if it is present.
And will also minimize the risk of unfavorable consequences in the future.
This therapy is supposed to help the individual recognize the reason behind his urge to steal, and help him understand how to overcome this type of attitude using proper methodology.
At the same time, the individual must be checked for any other disorders like depression and anxiety as well.
Treatment for this disorder is mainly dependent on behaviour and attitude monitoring. Certain antidepressants may also be used in some cases.
For example, serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are used to overcome extreme urges in some individuals.
Research is being continued in order to discover more ways to cope with this disorder in terms of medication based treatment.
Naltrexone is an example of a drug which has proven to help control sudden intense urges.
It is being administered to alcohol abusers to help them resist the urge to drink.
Addictive Or Not
Kleptomania is not addictive as it does not involve drug abuse, but it has symptoms similar to substance use disorder.
These symptoms include showing addictive behavior towards stealing objects, objects that may or may not be useful to the individual.
Kleptomania diagnosed patients have to deal with an intense desire to steal things that they do not already have, whether from friends, family or strangers, and this satisfies their impulse.
An individual suffering from this disorder might simply steal just to fulfill his aesthetic preference.
A rush of dopamine is felt by the individual when he is about to steal and during the event of stealing.
Although the impulse has been satisfied after a successful stealth, the individual is unexpectedly hit by a wave of guilt and mental trauma about his wrongful actions.
This feeling is also experienced by regular drug abusers or alcoholics.
Kleptomania can be associated with other mental illnesses in terms of substance use disorder.
The individual will try to steal to overcome the anxiety and desire to steal. And when he starts regretting after stealing, he will want to fix it, or at least try to get rid of the post-stealth trauma.
At this point, he is free from his impulsive tendencies and he can use this chance to make the decision of seeing a doctor before the cycle repeats.
Kleptomania may be considered as a form of obsessive compulsive spectrum disorders due to its association with overwhelming compulsive and impulsive tendencies.
Such examples include impulsive buying, anxiety, pyromania, pathological gambling etc.
This is considered because in many cases of Kleptomania, there is a high consistent number of relatives suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder.
Kleptomania is considered comorbid with obsessive compulsive disorder, substance use disorder, impulsive desire to shop, depression, anxiety, bulimia nervosa, and other impulse control disorders.
According to statistics, Kleptomania individuals can be studied on the basis of gender, onset and presence of mental illnesses.
About two-thirds of people with Kleptomania comprise females. In terms of the general public, the percentage of individuals with Kleptomania is about 0.3 to 0.6 percent.
Approximately five percent of total shoplifting is the result of Kleptomania disorder.
The prevalence of mental illnesses might be related to this impulse control disorder.
Kleptomania associates with obsessive compulsive disorder in about seven percent cases of individuals.
Onset Of Kleptomania
Usually individuals with this disorder start showing symptoms as they reach adulthood or late adolescence.
As Legal Defense
Kleptomania has been used by many thieves as an excuse to get their sentences reduced at courts.
Different countries have different laws for mental illness being considered as legal defense to court charges.
Some countries might consider Kleptomania as a mental illness because it basically means losing impulse control.
It is to be noted that an individual diagnosed with Kleptomania will be more likely to steal randomly and suddenly while he is alone.
On the other hand, thefts are usually performed on the basis of some sort of planning beforehand.
Furthermore, objects stolen by individuals suffering from Kleptomania are usually thrown away or placed randomly without any intention of using them ever. They might also be given away to friends and family.
All this means that these items have barely any legal or these stealing individuals.
According to this rule, Kleptomania can not be used as a legal defense. This is because in this rule, one has to prove that the mentally disabled individual was unable to process the intentions behind his criminal act and the nature of his act.
An individual diagnosed with Kleptomania is able to process his actions before and during the event of stealing.
He also faces the fear of arrest and feelings of guilt afterwards.
American Law Institute
According to this rule, one has to prove that the individual lacks the ability to confirm his actions during the stealing event.
Test might be conducted here for ‘irresistible impulse’. In this case, it should be noted that for people with Kleptomania, it is not impossible to overcome the urge for the rest of their lives.
Basically, proof of Kleptomania may not be enough as legal defense.
At most, you might get your sentence reduced if your situation is successfully approved by an expert psychiatrist.
Kleptomania is a rare disorder, hence there is less awareness about it in the general public.
The individuals that suffer from this disorder are often embarrassed to mention it to others due to the fear of getting arrested or getting judged wrongly.
It has a bad influence on a person’s social life and his mental state. More research is still needed to introduce improved and new methods of treatment for this disorder.
Side Note: I have tried and tested various products and services to help with my anxiety and depression. See my top recommendations here, as well as a full list of all products and services our team has tested for various mental health conditions and general wellness.
The treatments already present have also proven helpful in overcoming the impulsive tendencies in many patients.
- What is Kleptomania
- How to diagnose kleptomania
- Find out about serotonin
- Anxiety: A brief guide
- What you need to know about Behavioral Activation for Depression
- Why you should see a psychologist