Kleptomania: The Urge to Steal

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Kleptomania: The Urge to Steal

The prevalence of kleptomania in the United States' general population alone is an estimated 6 per 1,000 people/ Photo By garetsworkshop via Shutterstock

 

When children are growing up, parents teach them what behavior is right and wrong. They learn what to think and behave in such a way that they will not commit mistakes. One of the common things that they are being taught is to not steal or get something that's not theirs. However, there are those who still grow up having a recurrent urge to steal items that most of the time they don't really need or usually have little value.

This kind of behavior may not be normal for a person because this might be a rare and serious mental health disorder called kleptomania. Just like other mental health conditions, kleptomania can cause emotional distress not only to the individual but also to the people around them. Kleptomania statistics are quite scarce, but a report from an article by the Addiction Hope showed that this condition is more common than previously thought. 

The prevalence of kleptomania in the United States' general population alone is an estimated 6 per 1,000 people or 1.2 million of the 200 million American adults. Additionally, it has been reported that 5% of shoplifting is committed by people suffering from kleptomania. In 2002, the total shoplifting costs have reached $10 billion or a $500 million annual loss to the economy attributable to the mental health disorder. Although the condition is still rare, it is important to watch for signs and symptoms to address it immediately. 

A Deeper Look at Kleptomania

Since kleptomania is characterized by problems with emotional or behavioral self-control, people suffering from this disorder have difficulty resisting the drive to steal. Unfortunately, these people are afraid to seek mental health treatment because of the stigma attached to it. They are worried that it will cost them a deep measure of embarrassment that they even refuse to open up to their loved ones. According to an article by the Very Well Mind, individuals suffering from kleptomania experience tension, which is often relieved only when they commit theft. 

Since stealing or theft is a criminal act, this disorder can lead to significant legal consequences. Individuals who are suffering from kleptomania may face trial, arrest, and incarceration as a result of their symptoms. In fact, a previous study showed that more than 68% of people with this disorder had been arrested for stealing while 20% had been convicted and incarcerated. It should also be noted that they are different from typical shoplifters who usually plan their thefts. Kleptomaniacs steal spontaneously to relieve the tension that's building in their body if they do not act on it. 

Kleptomania is more common for people who have anxieties or disorders that are associated with impulse control. Some of the mental health conditions that can lead to kleptomania include obsessive-compulsive disorder, body dysmorphic disorder, separation anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and mood disorders. Previous research revealed that 59% of people with kleptomania have been also diagnosed with an affective disorder at some point in their lives. 

Kleptomania is characterized by problems with emotional or behavioral self-control/ Photo By Monthira via Shutterstock

 

Studies also showed that kleptomania is linked with other psychiatric conditions, such as eating disorders, bipolar disorder, and anxiety. Additionally, about 43% to 55% of people with kleptomania have an existing personality disorder like histrionic personality disorder and paranoid personality disorder.

To determine if someone is suffering from this condition, they should be diagnosed first. Some of the administering psychometric scales that can help include Modified for Kleptomania (K-YBOCS), Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale, and Kleptomania Symptoms Assessment Scale (K-SAS). 

 

Causes and Symptoms

Knowing the reasons behind kleptomania, as well as its signs, are important in helping people who are suffering from a mental health disorder. Unfortunately, the exact causes of kleptomania are still unknown. Some researchers believe that it is part of an alcohol or substance addiction while some believe that it is a deviation of an impulse control disorder. Psychology showed different perspectives, which suggest a few possible explanations. 

First is the psychoanalytic approach that says that people who are driven to steal without profit uses it as a form of coping mechanism for some type of early loss or neglect. Another is the cognitive-behavioral approach that explains that individuals who have been positively reinforced for stealing something at a young age are more likely to have kleptomania when they grow up. Last is the biological approach, suggesting that the disorder may be connected to specific regions of the brain and possible dysregulation of certain neurotransmitters.

According to an article by the Mayo Clinic, the signs of kleptomania include feeling relief, pleasure, or gratification while stealing; an increased anxiety, tension or arousal, which leads to theft; inability to resist powerful urges to steal things although they don't need it, and return of the urges and a repetition of the kleptomania cycle. Additionally, most people with kleptomania usually steal from public places like supermarkets and stores. 

 

Treating Kleptomania

Unfortunately, there's no cure for kleptomania, and the best way to address is it to manage the disorder. Researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine conducted a small clinical trial to treat kleptomania but it showed no conclusive benefits of the patients. The results, however, indicated that there's a possibility that some medications may still be an effective treatment for certain patients. 

As Lorrin Koran, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, said, "People with this disorder should definitely seek treatment." One of the most common treatments for kleptomania is by medication. This includes antidepressants and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Another treatment could be cognitive-behavioral therapy, which addresses both the thoughts and behaviors of a person that urge them to steal.

 

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