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Kleptomania, which is a very real and serious mental health disorder that could tear a person’s life apart if not treated, is the irresistible urge to steal things that are not needed and that are of little value.
People that suffer from kleptomania are aware that their actions are harmful; however, the urge to steal is so powerful that they can't resist it. Kleptomania is a type of impulse control disorder in which the temptation to perform an act that is harmful to the same person or to someone else cannot be resisted. This urge makes people feel uncomfortably anxious, tense or aroused, so they steal in order to soothe these feelings. Even though during the theft they feel relief and gratification, however, afterwards, they feel remorse, enormous guild, fear of arrest and self-loathing. Despite all of this, the urge comes back, and the cycle of kleptomania repeats itself.
Because many people with kleptomania are afraid to seek mental health treatment, they live a life of secret shame. Treatment with medication or psychotherapy could help end the cycle of compulsive stealing despite the fact that kleptomania has no cure.
Some of the signs and symptoms of kleptomania could include:
People with kleptomania don’t obsessively steal for personal benefit or for revenge, unlike typical thieves. They simply steal due to an inexplicable urge. Usually, episodes of kleptomania appear spontaneously and without planning. However, an argument or another stressful event could stimulate an episode of kleptomania.
In most cases, people with kleptomania steal from public places, such as supermarkets. Some may steal from friends, such as at a party. Stolen items are usually stored, never to be used and worth nothing to the person with kleptomania. Items may also be given away, or secretly returned to where they were stolen from. In uncommon cases, people with kleptomania may steal the same kind of items more than one time, such as underwear. In these cases, an element of fetishism could be included in kleptomania.
The exact cause of kleptomania is not known. However, it has been suggested that kleptomania could be related to a defect in serotonin, which is a naturally occurring brain chemical.
Kleptomania can result in severe emotional, legal and financial problems when it is left untreated. A person with this condition may feel powerless to resist the impulse of stealing, however, they may be wracked with guilt, shame, self-loathing and humiliation because they know that stealing is wrong. Otherwise, they might lead a moral, upstanding life, and be confused and upset by their compulsive stealing.
Some of the complications that kleptomania may cause or be associated with are:
It is very important to seek help for kleptomania despite the fact that humiliation or embarrassment will make it difficult to seek treatment. This condition is very difficult for someone to overcome on their own. Typically, treatment for kleptomania will include medications as well as psychotherapy along with self-help groups. Despite this, kleptomania has no standard treatment and researchers are still trying to understand what might work best. Before finding a treatment that works well, a person may have to try several types of kleptomania treatments.
Although some studies have suggested that there are certain medications that could be helpful, however, there is little solid scientific research about using psychiatric medications. Based on the patient’s overall situation and other conditions that he/she may have, including obsessive-compulsive disorder or depression, the doctor will decide the best medication. Taking a combination of medications may also be beneficial.
Some of the medications that could be considered include:
A commonly prescribed medication for kleptomania is naltrexone, which is technically known as opioid antagonist. This drug could reduce the urges and pleasure that is associated with stealing by blocking the part of the brain that feels pleasure with certain addictive behaviors.
These are medications that even out a person’s mood, so that they won't have rapid or uneven changes that could trigger urges to steal. Lithium has been suggested to be helpful.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the commonly used medications to treat kleptomania. Some examples of these medications are fluvoxamine, paroxetine and fluoxetine. However, SSRIs have been reported to trigger the symptoms of kleptomania in some cases. A person should talk to a doctor about his/her concerns and coping with the side effects of antidepressants.
These drugs have shown some benefits in certain mental health disorders, possibly including kleptomania, despite the fact that they were originally intended for seizure disorders. The drugs that have shown benefits include valproic acid and topiramate.
Also called tranquilizers, these medications are central nervous system depressants; some examples are alprazolam and clonazepam. Particularly when taken for a long time or in high doses, these medications could be habit-forming, which means that they could cause mental or physical dependence. Usually, the effectiveness of these medications varies.
In order to see what works best with the least side effects, the patient will probably have to try several different medications or combination of medications. It could take several weeks before he/she notices full benefits. In the case of being bothered by side effects, a doctor or mental health provider should be consulted. With time, many side effects go away on their own. However, a person may be able to switch medications or change the dosage under the guidance of his/her health provider.
The psychotherapy of choice for kleptomania is cognitive behavioral therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy generally helps in identifying unhealthy, negative beliefs and behaviors and replacing them with healthy and positive ones.
In this method, people practice mildly painful techniques, for instance, whenever they get an urge to steal, they will hold their breath until they become uncomfortable.
In this method, people picture themselves stealing and then being caught, or facing other negative consequences.
In this method, people practice relaxation techniques and picture themselves controlling their urges to steal.
Some other types of therapies that could be helpful include marriage counseling, psychodynamic therapy or family therapy.
Self-help groups that are based on 12-step programs have been beneficial for some people with kleptomania. A person could also benefit from attending A.A. or other addiction meetings in case he/she can't find a group specifically for kleptomania. However, a person should ask his/her mental health care provider because these groups are not suitable for everyone.
HOW TO AVOID RELAPSES:
Having relapses of kleptomania is quite common. A person should be sure to stick to the treatment plan in order to help avoid relapses. They should contact their mental health provider or reach out to a trusted support group in case they feel urges to steal. They could also consider touching base with a trusted and compassionate probation officer in case they’re on probation.
Samir Moussa M.D.
Dr. Samer Al-Jneidy
Dr . Dirar Abboud
Yaser Habrawi , F.R.C.S.Ed
Dr. Hani Najjar
Dr. Faisal Dibsi
Dr. Talal Sabouni
Dr. Tahsin Martini