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What is a Kleptomania?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 26 June 2014
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Kleptomania is an impulse control disorder in which someone feels an uncontrollable urge to steal. Although some people find the concept amusing or laughable, kleptomania is actually a serious psychiatric condition, and it can cause large problems if not treated. Commonly, kleptomania is also part of another larger psychiatric condition which should be treated so that the patient can live a well-adjusted life.

The name for the condition comes from the Ancient Greek kleptein, which means “to steal,” and mania, for “craze.” Someone with kleptomania will feel an intense urge to steal objects which are often small and not valuable. Once an item is stolen, the kleptomaniac usually feels more comfortable, but he or she may experience intense feelings of guilt, which can lead to intense anxiety, triggering another episode.

Several conditions must be fulfilled before a person can be diagnosed with kleptomania. The first concerns the type of items stolen; a person with kleptomania does not steal out of economic need, or personal desire, he or she simply takes items, often hoarding them or sometimes even giving them back later. In some cases, a patient may collect a specific type of item, like office supplies. The thefts must not be motivated by anger, a desire for revenge, or hallucinations.

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In addition, true kleptomania does not fall within the framework of other psychiatric disorders. For example, a manic depressive person might steal something during an episode, but he or she is not a kleptomaniac. Other conditions like social anxiety disorder and conduct disorder can lead people to steal things, but not in the recurrent cycle which characterizes kleptomania.

Before committing a theft, a patient often feels tense and stressed out. Once the item has been stolen, a feeling of relief or fulfillment occurs. Someone with kleptomania may be aware of the consequences of stealing, such as prosecution in a court of law, but he or she commits the theft anyway. Despite the fact that kleptomaniacs lack control over their own behavior, they can be held financially accountable in a court of law in many nations.

A variety of things can be used to treat kleptomania. Cognitive behavior therapy and other therapies are very common, especially since the condition is usually related to other conditions which require treatment. In some cases, pharmaceuticals may be used to see if the kleptomania is caused by an imbalance in the patient's brain. Some patients also benefit from group therapy, which reminds them that they are not alone and there is not shame in seeking treatment.

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