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Kleptomania: All you need to know about it; causes and treatment

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With Kangana Ranaut playing a character suffering from the illness, we take a look at what it is about and the various treatment methods

Kangana Ranaut picking stuff from a departmental store and acting goofy in her upcoming film ‘Simran’ may come across as a funny girl, but kleptomania is not funny in real life. Did you know cases of kleptomania have been reported as far back as 1816? Today, it is thought to account for at least 5% of shoplifting in USA. It is also known to be more common in women than men. It is most likely that people with Kleptomania, have other psychiatric disorders, such as depressive and bipolar disorders, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, personality disorders, substance abuse disorders etc.

So, what exactly is kleptomania, is it same as stealing? The answer is a big No. Kleptomania is a rare impulse control disorder. A person suffering from this condition is unable to resist stealing, even if they are aware of what they are doing at all times. It’s not a planned move and is often accompanied by feelings of remorse. Stealing on the other hand is a planned move done for personal gain.


Kleptomaniais often seen in patients who are chemically dependent or who have a coexisting mood, anxiety, or eating disorder.When a person has kleptomania, he or she experiences a great deal of anxiety about stealing. There is a great deal of tension before committing the theft and a sense of relief after the theft is complete.

Here are the major symptoms of kleptomania: If you have a friend or a family member, who you think might be suffering from this condition, look out for some of these characteristics:

  • An intense urge to steal: Kleptomaniacs do not need the items they steal, they tend to steal because of an inability to resist the urge to steal. In fact, very often, these items are not even used by them.
  • A feeling of relief or anxiety after stealing:Some of the kleptomaniacs feel a sense of relief after stealing, while others may exhibit symptoms such as guilt, remorse, fear, and self-loathing. However, all of them find it impossible to control their urge to steal, and as a result, the cycle repeats itself sooner or later.
  • Episodes are spontaneous and not motivated:Episodes of kleptomania generally occur spontaneously, usually without planning and without help or collaboration from another person. The theft is not motivated by anger or vengeance, and is not caused by a delusion or hallucination.
  • Stolen objects don’t have much personal use or monetary value for Kleptomaniacs: Often, the stolen items have no value to the person with kleptomania, and the person can afford to buy them. The stolen items are usually stashed away, never to be used. Items may also be donated, given away to family or friends, or even secretly returned to the place from which they were stolen.
  • Most people with kleptomania steal from public places, such as stores and supermarkets. Some may steal from friends or acquaintances, such as at a party.
  • Urges to steal may come and go or may occur with greater or lesser intensity over the course of time.

What causes it?

Various factors can contribute to kleptomania, some of which may include:

  • having other mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, substance use disorders, or personality disorders (The link seems to be strongest with obsessive-compulsive disorder.)
  • problems with low levels of serotonin, leading to an increase in impulsive behaviors
  • relations with addictive disorders, since stealing can release the rush of dopamine that becomes addictive
  • an imbalance in the brain’s opioid system, which controls urges
  • a family history of kleptomania or addiction
  • head trauma, like concussions

 Can Kleptomania be treated?

Kleptomania can be difficult to overcome on your own, and professional help from a trained therapists can go a long way in treating the condition. Treatment of kleptomania may involve medications and psychotherapy, sometimes with recommended participation in self-help groups. One usually begins with a form of psychotherapy called cognitive behavioural therapy that helps you identify unhealthy, negative beliefs and behaviours and replace them with healthy, positive ones.

Since it is usually perceived to be a part of some underlying psychological problems, treatment is linked to the complete understanding of the patient’s history, genetic conditions, life situations etc. Even though much is not known about the causes of the diseases, it can be managed with a combination of pharmaceutical and behavioural treatments from trained professional therapists.

The article has been published in association with Juno Clinic (www.juno.clinic)