kleptomaniac is a person who has a need to steal things even when he doesn’t need them. These people can feel satisfaction in taking something that does not belong to them. For example, a person who steals to support his family is not in the same category as someone who steals for the sheer thrill of getting his way.

Surprisingly, many times the items they steal are of little value, like a packet of gum from a store. The person does not need the gum, and it is not that he cannot afford it, but that he takes it only for the emotion of the matter. Kleptomania is a mental health disorder that can cause serious repercussions.

It is not uncommon for this person to have several run-ins with the law and still cannot stop their behavior. One of the characteristics of this condition is impulse control problems, along with anxiety and self-control problems.

The temptation to drink something drives them too far, and it can escalate into an excessive habit that can hurt them or someone else.

In most cases of kleptomania , the person refuses to seek help because they are ashamed of their problems. Also, there is no magic cure or medicine that will eliminate this mental illness. The best way to stop the compulsive stealing cycle is to use cognitive behavioral therapy.

Characteristics of a kleptomaniac

People with kleptomania are not your typical shoplifters. They do not want to take risks, take revenge or seek monetary gain. Instead, they have an urge within them that is so strong that they cannot resist shoving something in their pocket.

Unlike a traditional thief who can plan his attack, a kleptomaniac does not make any plans for his next crime. They often operate spontaneously and rarely involve another person in their crimes. Consequently, these acts almost always occur in public places rather than taking something from a friend or loved one.

To the outside world, theft is meaningless. The person takes things that they can easily afford to buy. It is often the case that a person will have episodes of kleptomania at times of high stress in their life.

The case of Winona Ryder

As a great Hollywood actress, she became famous at a young age. However, he shocked the world when he stole more than $ 4,700 worth of merchandise from various stores in the Los Angeles area. She faced a six-day trial in which she was found guilty of her crimes.

Ryder struggled with depression and anxiety. During a low point in her career, she hit rock bottom. She had no intention of selling or using the items she stole. Rather, like most people with this disorder, he hid them and never used them.

Typical of the disorder, in Ryder’s case, it was short-lived. There have been no reports of this outlier behavior since. However, underlying anxiety and depression are undoubtedly a constant concern for many kleptomaniacs.

Causes of kleptomania

Although there are many theories about it, the exact cause of kleptomania is unknown. Some experts suggest that the problem arises from changes that occur deep within the brain. Consequently, more research needs to be done to understand why these people feel such a strong urge to steal.

Here are theories as to what causes a person to become kleptomaniac.

1. A kleptomaniac is low in serotonin

A chemical imbalance in the brain is the most credible cause of this condition. When this vital neurotransmitter is low or unbalanced, then a person is prone to problems 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 generating feelings of pleasure, it can interfere with the reward system that a person feels internally.

The medical community believes that an imbalance of this chemical may play a role in this impulse control problem.

3. Opioid receptors are involved

The brain has an opioid system that helps regulate a person’s impulses. This system is affected when a person uses illegal drugs, making it more difficult to resist their use.

However, other things can affect these receptors as well. A person who has a strong urge to steal things may be forced to perform these acts because opioid receptors are out of control.

Shoplifting is estimated to cost retailers more than $ 10 million annually. However, it is highly unlikely that many of these people have a problem with kleptomania . Most of these people cross paths with an amateur shoplifter rather than someone with a mental health problem.

Only about 5 percent of robberies are believed to be perpetrated by people with kleptomania . The prevalence of this condition is believed to be about 1.2 percent of the population, which is about 200 million adults in the United States.

It is so rare that only six out of 1,000 people have this condition.

The real problem with a kleptomaniac is that they often go undiagnosed. If they think they have a problem, they will not get help due to the associated stigma. Consequently, many have repeated problems with the law and have spent time in jail for stealing senseless items.

Experts have highlighted the fact that urges to steal most often begin during adolescence. Surprisingly, more than two-thirds of the people with this condition are women. Some of the risk factors for having this condition include:

Family history

Having a parent or sibling who suffers from the same problem gives a person a greater chance of developing this condition. Other risk factors include alcohol or drug addiction problems. Furthermore, there are also some genetic links related to obsessive compulsive disorder.

Underlying mental illnesses

Research indicates that those who have kleptomania often have another underlying mental health disorder as well. The most commonly diagnosed comorbidities are anxiety, depression, bipolar and eating or personality disorders.

Complications of kleptomaniac behaviors

The constant need to steal things of little monetary value is a mental illness. Left untreated, this problem can cause major problems in your personal or professional life, as well as a myriad of legal and financial problems.

The kleptomaniac knows that stealing is wrong , but he cannot fight the impulses he feels inside. Many times, the person caught in this vicious web is an upright citizen of society. Therefore, they often feel intense shame and guilt when their behavior defeats them.

Some of the typical complications found with this mental illness include other compulsions such as gambling, shopping, eating disorders, as well as substance abuse problems.

Signs that reveal a kleptomaniac

It can be difficult for a friend or family member to identify signs of kleptomania initially. However, as time passes, the actions become undeniable.

These are the 10 most common behaviors that can indicate that a person is kleptomaniac:

A compulsion to steal that may come from childhood

  • Severe episodes of anxiety or hostility
  • Feelings of intrusion
  • Self-deprecating behaviors
  • Severe stress in life
  • Impulse control difficulties
  • Other mental illnesses
  • Substance abuse problems
  • A poor self-image
  • Problems with self-control

A person suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD has difficulty controlling impulses. They can easily become kleptomaniacs to ease their anxiety.

The average person can stop the urge to drink something that does not belong to them. However, having other underlying mental health disorders can add fuel to the fire.

It is not uncommon to find underlying anxiety, depression, a personality disorder, or other mental health problem at the crux of kleptomania.

By Dr. Eric Jackson

Dr. Eric Jackson provides primary Internal Medicine care for men and women and treats patients with bone and mineral diseases, diabetes, heart conditions, and other chronic illnesses.He is a Washington University Bone Health Program physician and is a certified Bone Densitometrist. Dr. Avery is consistently recognized in "The Best Doctors in America" list.

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