Kleptomania: A Rare But Serious Mental Health Disorder

Kleptomania is one of the mental health conditions where the individual feels a strong urge to start stealing things. They find it hard to control the urge to steal. It is an embarrassing situation when the kleptomaniac is caught in the act. It is hard to explain to people that the individual has a mental health issue and they are not doing it out of choice.

What exactly is kleptomania?

Kleptomania refers to a mental health disorder where an individual feels an irresistible and overpowering urge to start stealing things. A kleptomaniac understands that stealing is not right and can land them in trouble. However, they are unable to stop themselves. The ones with this condition do not steal due to a character flaw or lack of self-control or willpower.

Rather, it is a type of medical disorder where the person is simply unable to resist the urge to steal. A congenital kleptomaniac feels stressed, shameful, or guilty about stealing. They might try to compensate for that by donating the items to charity or returning the goods. They might even try to pay for the items as compensation.

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The occurrence of the kleptomania

People who are assigned to be female at birth are a lot more likely to be kleptomaniac than people who are male at birth. There is no specific age for the onset of the condition because people have been diagnosed as young as four to as old as seventy years.

In the case of congenital kleptomaniac, people have had this disease since their birth. Generally, a congenital kleptomaniac inherits this disease due to the family medical history. In a majority of cases, it is noticed that even their parents or siblings suffer from either kleptomania or OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). However, keep in mind that kleptomania is not common. Less than one percent of the population is affected by this mental health disorder.

Causes of kleptomania

There is no exact cause identified yet for kleptomania. However, the following causes have been suspected for this disorder:

Structural differences in the brain: It has been noted that a kleptomaniac has structural differences in the parts of the brain that govern inhibitions and impulse control.

Brain chemistry related differences: The neurotransmitters in the brain helps to manage and communicate certain procedures. In some cases, people have developed kleptomania after taking medicines that impact the neurotransmitters in the brain.

Genetic deformities: As mentioned before, many kleptomaniacs have a family history of the disease.

A symptom of some other health problem: Many experts feel that kleptomania is a symptom and not a health condition. Individuals who have kleptomania also tend to suffer from substance use, mood, and anxiety disorders. They are at a greater risk of suicide and self-harm.

Diagnosis of kleptomania

An individual has to meet the following five criteria to be diagnosed as a kleptomaniac:

  • Stealing does not result from any emotional response, hallucination, or delusion. They do not steal because of anger or revenge.
  • Feeling ‘high’ or positive emotions right after stealing.
  • Feeling heightened anticipation or tension before stealing.
  • They can have repeated unsuccessful tries at stealing. Also, they do not take the stolen items because they required them or wanted to get something in exchange for cash.
  • Other mental health disorders like manic behavior, antisocial personality disorders, or conduct disorders can also lead to kleptomania.

What tests can be carried out to diagnose the disease?

There are no tests that can help to diagnose kleptomania. But your doctor might suggest other tests in order to rule out the possibility of any other condition. Your doctor will outline which conditions they are trying to eliminate by doing those tests.

Treatment for kleptomania

Medical science is yet to find a standard way for the treatment of kleptomania. Furthermore, there is a lack of proper research on which treatment can work the best. The treatments can be broadly categorized into two categories:

Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy involves helping the individual understand the reason behind why they are doing what they do. Then, the therapist shows the way to avoid or change those behaviors. A therapist can try group therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy. In fact, even hypnosis can be helpful in some cases.

Medication: Usually, the initial treatment starts with opioid antagonists. These medicines block the impact of opioid medicines and are known to be highly effective. Because of these medicines, the person does not feel any positive emotion when stealing. It helps the individual resist their urge to steal. Doctors might even suggest anti-seizure drugs, antidepressants, or lithium.

The result of kleptomania does not show up immediately. It takes time for the patient to notice any change in behavior. However, it is important to continue the treatment and have no break in the treatment for better and faster results. The healthcare provider is the only one who can offer some insights about the timeline of recovery.

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