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Kleptomania

Kleptomania is a complex disorder characterized by repeated, failed attempts to stop stealing. People with this disorder have an irrepressible urge to steal and get a thrill from doing so. The recurrent act of stealing may be restricted to specific objects and settings, but the affected person may or may not describe these special preferences. Most Kleptomaniacs have a tendency of stealing things that are not of much value. The fact that most items stolen by kleptomaniacs are not valuable points to the lack of a kleptomaniac’s control over his/her actions.

Quick Facts:

  • The theft that kleptomaniacs commit is motivated neither by anger nor by hallucinations
  • Kleptomaniacs feel pleasure or relief upon stealing something
  • Kleptomania is more prevalent in females than males
  • More than 50% of bulimic people suffer from kleptomania as well
  • There is little to no knowledge of preventative methods for kleptomania

Diagnosing Kleptomania

It is impossible to detect Kleptomania unless a patient acknowledges it, or an outside source that is close to the patient informs a doctor of the problem. There are no outward indicating factors (other than the thefts themselves, and doctors rarely witness those), which makes it nearly impossible to diagnose Kleptomaniacs. Another obstacle in diagnosing Kleptomaniacs is that they rarely seek help for their condition or even acknowledge it. A doctor can only diagnose Kleptomania if he/she is told about the compulsive stealing by the patient or a third party. Even preliminary psychological assessments may not find indicators of Kleptomania, and Kleptomaniacs are often diagnosed when patients seek medical attention for other disorders. Some disorders that Kleptomaniacs frequently suffer from in addition to their primary disorder include social phobia, anorexia, bulimia, obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression. An unstable childhood, poor familial relations and a stressful life/childhood have all been linked to Kleptomania and may also be factors in the development of the disease.

Treating Kleptomania

If Kleptomania is even suspected in a patient, the patient will usually be subjected to extensive psychological interviews. Once the patient is established as having Kleptomania, he/she will undergo regular therapy. Therapy for Kleptomaniacs normally concentrates on developing and improving impulse control and on any treating any other disorders the patient may suffer from. Triggers are determined and addressed, and a preventative strategy to avoid triggers is developed. Behavioral therapy is not an unusual treatment for Kleptomania, and rational emotive therapy is known to be an effective treatment. Recent studies have shown that some medications, such as Prozac, may be useful in treating Kleptomania. Antidepressants have also been used to treat Kleptomania, but results vary and there is no FDA-approved medication for Kleptomania.

View Resources

Biological Psychiatry Program – Classification and explanation of kleptomania

Brief definition and explanation of kleptomania

The American Journal of Psychiatry – Study of kleptomaniacs (comparison with alcoholics)

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