Frequently Asked Questions About Kleptomania
As many as 1.2 million Americans, or approximately six out of every thousand, struggle with a condition called kleptomania. Kleptomania may serve as the driving force behind five percent of all shoplifting offenses in the U.S. (resulting in half a billion dollars in losses to businesses) as well as otherwise inexplicable personal thefts.
If you think that you or someone you love might suffer from kleptomania, you owe it to yourself to learn more about this form of impulse control disorder, its relationship to other mental health issues, and how treatment can address the problem at its roots. Check out these frequently asked questions about kleptomania.
What Does Kleptomania Involve?
Kleptomania involves an irresistible urge to steal from individuals or businesses. In most cases, a person suffering from kleptomania will steal small objects of relatively little street value. In fact, the objects stolen don’t usually matter to the affected person, who may immediately throw them out as worthless.
Kleptomania often leads to compulsive shoplifting. Although most cases of shoplifting occur with criminal intent, shoplifters who practice this crime with no apparent plan or for no apparent reason may struggle with kleptomania — which requires medical treatment.
Who Develops Kleptomania, and Why?
Kleptomania belongs to a family of mental health challenges known as impulse control disorders. Many of the same people who have kleptomania also have another impulse control disorder, a substance abuse disorder, depression, or an eating disorder such as bulimia.
A variety of other factors may influence the development of kleptomania. Researchers believe that imbalances of mood-governing substances in the brain may compel theft, especially high-risk theft. These actions interact with the brain’s opioid receptors while boosting dopamine levels, just as many addictive drugs do.
Genetic and family background may affect a person’s risk of developing kleptomania. If you come from a family with a history of obsessive-compulsive disorder, impulse control disorders, or substance abuse, you may face an elevated kleptomania risk. A violent, lonely, or neglectful environment can encourage the disorder.
When Should You Suspect Kleptomania?
On the surface, you might find it hard to tell whether someone in your life has kleptomania, or even whether you yourself suffer from this challenge. The act of stealing itself does not signify kleptomania, since many people steal to provide for their families or as a deliberate hostile act against a person or institution.
Watch out for acts of theft that don’t make any sense, such as the repeated thefts of small, useless, low-value objects. If you or someone you love seems to steal things on the spur of the moment, suspect kleptomania. If you feel especially ashamed, guilty, or elated and excited after a theft, you may need to consult a mental health expert.
How Do Medical Professionals Treat Kleptomania?
Treatment for kleptomania typically involves multiple approaches and strategies that aim to control both the behavior itself and its underlying causes or triggers. If your doctor believes that you suffer from a biochemical imbalance, you may receive medications to normalize your levels of mood-altering hormones.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help you manage the compulsive thoughts that may result in acts of kleptomania. Your therapist will teach you desensitization exercises and techniques to help you talk yourself down from the impulse to steal that next time that impulse strikes you.
Other therapeutic techniques may also help you overcome kleptomania. In aversion therapy, for instance, you get into the habit of performing some uncomfortable action (such as pinching yourself or holding your breath) whenever you experience the urge to steal.
Each case of kleptomania comes with its own set of challenges and potential remedies, calling for personalized therapy plans to address all the subtleties involved. For instance, you or your affected loved one may also need treatment for co-occurring mental health challenges such as depression or substance use disorder.
Comprehensive Counseling Services offers programs to help people get over kleptomania, shoplifting addiction, and other related mental health issues. Contact us today to schedule an appointment for yourself or a loved one.