A kleptomaniac is a person who has the urge to steal things even when they don’t need them. These people get a rush by taking something that doesn’t belong to them. For instance, a person who steals to provide for their family is not in the same category as someone who steals for the sheer thrill of getting by with it.
Shockingly, the items stolen are of little value, typically, such as a pack of gum from the grocery store. The person doesn’t need the bubblegum, and it’s not that they can’t afford it, but they take it out of the thrill of the matter. Kleptomania is a mental health disorder that can cause serious repercussions.
It’s not uncommon for this person to have several run-ins with the law and still be unable to stop their behavior. One of the hallmarks of this condition is poor impulse control issues, along with anxiety and self-control problems. The temptation to take something drives them, and it can accelerate into an excessive habit that hurts you or someone else.
In most cases of kleptomania, the person refuses to seek help because they are embarrassed about their issues. Additionally, there is no magic cure or medication that will take this mental illness away. The best way to stop the compulsive stealing cycle is to use cognitive behavioral therapy.
Characteristics of a Kleptomaniac
People who have kleptomania are not like typical shoplifters. They are not out to take something on a dare, for revenge, or to seek monetary gain. Instead, they have an urge inside them that is so strong that they cannot resist slipping something in their pocket.
Unlike a traditional thief that may plan their attack, a kleptomaniac doesn’t make any plans for their next crime. They often work spontaneously and seldom involve another person in their offenses. Consequently, these acts almost always occur in public places rather than taking something from a friend or loved one.
To the outside world, the theft makes no sense. The person takes things that they can afford to buy with ease. It’s often the case that a person will have bouts with kleptomania during times of high stress in their life.
Consider Wynonna Ryder.
As a Hollywood A-lister, she became famous at a young age. However, she shocked the world when she stole over $4,700 worth of merchandise from various shops in the Los Angeles area. She faced a six-day trial in which she was found guilty of her crimes.
Ryder had issues with depression and anxiety. During a low point in her career, she hit rock bottom. The did not intend to sell or use the items she swiped. But like most people with this disorder, she stashed them away and never used them.
Typical to the disorder, in Ryder’s case, it lasted for just a short while. She has not had any reports of this atypical behavior since. However, anxiety and underlying depression are certainly an ongoing concern for many kleptomaniacs.
Causes of Kleptomania
Though there are many theories on the matter, the exact cause of kleptomania is not known. Some experts suggest that the problem stems from changes that occur deep within the brain. Consequently, more research must happen to understand why these people feel such an intense need to steal.
Here are theories on what causes a person to become a kleptomaniac.
1. A Kleptomaniac is Low on Serotonin
A chemical imbalance in the brain is the most believable cause for this condition. When this vital neurotransmitter is low or imbalanced, then a person is prone to having issues with impulse control.
2. The Person Has Underlying Addiction Disorders
Another neurotransmitter believed to be involved in this disorder is dopamine. Since this chemical is responsible for bringing feelings of pleasure, it can mess with the reward system that a person feels internally.
The medical community believes that an imbalance of this chemical can play a part in this impulse control issue.
3. The Opioid Receptors Are Involved
The brain has an opioid system that helps to regulate a person’s urges. This system is affected when a person uses illegal drugs, which makes it harder for them to resist their use.
However, other things can affect these receptors too. A person who has a strong urge to steal things may be driven to do these acts because the opioid receptors are out of whack.
It’s estimated that shoplifting costs retailers more than $10 million annually. However, it’s highly unlikely that many of these people have a problem with kleptomania. Most individuals fall into the line of an amateur shoplifter rather than someone with a mental health concern.
It’s thought that only about 5 percent of shoplifting is from those with kleptomania. The prevalence of this condition is thought to be about 1.2 percent of the population, which is about 200 million adults in this country. It’s so rare that only six out of every 1,000 people this condition.
The real problem with a kleptomaniac is that they often go undiagnosed. If they believe they have a problem, then they won’t get help because of the stigma attached. Consequently, many have repeat problems with the law and have spent time in jail for meaningless stolen items.
Experts have narrowed down the fact that the urges to steal most commonly start during the teenage years. Shockingly, more than two-thirds of the people that suffer from this condition are females. Some of the risk factors for having this ailment include:
• Family History
Having a parent or sibling that suffers from the same problem gives a person a higher probability of developing this condition. Other risk factors include addiction issues with alcohol or drugs. Additionally, there are also some genetic links tied to obsessive-compulsive disorder too.
Underlying Mental Illnesses
Research points out that those who have kleptomania often also have another underlying mental health disorder. The most commonly diagnosed comorbidities are anxiety, depression, bipolar, and eating or personality disorders.
Complications of Kleptomaniac Behaviors
The continual urge to steal things of little monetary value is a mental illness. If this problem is left untreated, then it can cause significant issues in their personal or professional life as well as endless legal and financial problems.
The kleptomaniac knows that stealing is wrong, yet they cannot fight the urges they feel inside. Many times, the person caught in this vicious web is an upstanding citizen of society. Thus, they often feel intense shame and guilt when their behavior catches up with them.
Some of the typical complications found with this mental illness include other compulsions like gambling, shopping, eating disorders, as well as substance abuse issues.
Signs That Reveal A Kleptomaniac
It may be difficult for a friend or family member to identify signs of kleptomania initially. However, as time passes on, the actions become undeniable.
Here are the ten most common behaviors that can indicate a person is a kleptomaniac.
- A compulsion to steal that may stem from childhood
- Severe bouts of anxiety or hostility
- Feelings of intrusion
- Self-loathing behaviors
- Severe stress in life
- Impulse control difficulties
- Other mental illnesses
- Substance abuse issues
- A poor self-image
- Ongoing issues with self-control
A person who suffers from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD has a difficult time with impulse control issues. They can easily become a kleptomaniac to ease their anxiety.
The average person can stop the urges to take something that doesn’t belong to them. However, having other underlying mental health disorders can add fuel to the fire. It’s not uncommon to find anxiety, depression, a personality disorder, or another underlying mental health problem at the crux of kleptomania.
Since kleptomania is such a rare condition, going to your family doctor will provide little assistance. Those who suffer from this problem need to be seen by someone who deals with mental health issues. There is currently no medication that can treat this mental health issue.
Often, the people that do seek treatment do so because they don’t want to ruin their career or good name by going to jail. Another common reason why someone will seek help is that the court has ordered them as part of their probation program.
If you suspect that a friend or family member is suffering from kleptomania, then you should talk to them about your concerns. Don’t try to approach this as a character flaw, as this is a mental health issue that is beyond their control.
Make sure you let them know that you are worried about their safety and well-being if this behavior continues. Also, if they continue to steal things, it could impact their job and finances as well as damage relationships.
Additionally, let them know that there are treatment programs that can help them with this addiction, just as there are to help those with gambling difficulties.
Remember, the kleptomaniac can’t just use “mind over matter” to get through this condition. They have a legitimate mental health concern that needs to be treated. In most cases, they must have help for the underlying issues, like anxiety and eating disorders, before they can treat the kleptomania.