Have you heard the word “shop-lifting” before? This is a common word used for the term “Kleptomania”. Have you come across a person stealing petty things in a shop or mall? Many a times such incidents are reported in daily newspapers and magazines. Sometimes the victims of it are locked up in jails and are ill-treated. Keeping the criminal offense aspect aside, it is noteworthy of knowing that kleptomania is a psychological ailment and its victims should be provided proper psychological treatment too.

A kleptomaniac is a person who helps himself because he can’t help himself.” – Henry Morgan

Kleptomania is a compulsive stealing disorder. The person suffering from it gets a strong urge to steal things. The urge is so strong that he/she cannot simply refrain from it or suppress it and ends up in stealing things. One astonishing thing that you need to know here is the things stolen by the person need not to be big or expensive. The person just steals it out of a powerful compulsion, even if the item is of personal use or not. But, folks! Kleptomania should not be confused with Theft or Act of Stealing. They are two different behaviors as a whole. Let me tell you the basic differences between Kleptomania and Stealing:

Stealing vs Kleptomania

  • Taking something (another person’s belongings) without permission and without the intention of returning.
  • Compulsive urge to steal something.
  • Not a psychological disorder or clinical symptom.
  • Kleptomania is a clinical/psychological disorder. It is also mentioned in the DSM IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders)
  • Intended for personal use or personal gain
  • The stolen thing may not be of personal use or for personal gain at all.
  • Theft is a deliberated and motivated action
  • Kleptomania is not a deliberate action. It is a lack of self-control, inability to resist the strong urge to steal
  • Things are stolen for personal benefit or for their monetary value
  • Monetary value or gain is usually not intended for in Kleptomania

Those were some of the important difference between the theft and kleptomania. There is a thin line of difference pertaining the clinical symptom aspects, intention and usage properties. Kleptomania is stealing only to satisfy the urge or powerful compulsion. It does not include any monetary gain, personal benefit and so on.

So, how can you know that whether a person has kleptomania or not? Here are some of the important clinical symptoms of Kleptomania:

Symptoms of Kleptomania

  • Anxiety
  • Repetitive and recurrent thoughts about stealing
  • Lack of impulse control or inability to control the urge of stealing
  • Compulsive thoughts
  • Relieve of compulsive tension after stealing
  • Feelings of guilt, stress and remorse

For an appropriate and correct diagnosis of Kleptomania, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) has laid the following diagnostic criteria:

  • Repeated inability to defend against urges to steal things that are not essential for private use or for their economic value;
  • Escalating sense of pressure immediately prior to performing the theft;
  • Satisfaction, fulfillment or relief at the point of performing the theft;
  • The theft is not executed to convey antagonism or revenge, and is not in reaction to a delusion or a fantasy; and
  • The thieving is not better accounted for by behavior disorder, a manic episode, or antisocial personality disorder.

Kleptomania is also said to be sometimes co-morbid with other psychological disorders like anxiety, stress, substance abuse disorder, mood swings, eating disorders and alcohol abuse. You will be amazed to know that there was a time when Kleptomania was linked with the wealthy lady shoplifters. It was a stereotypical thinking mostly during the 2oth century theft in departmental stores. However, in the present times the clinical implications of Kleptomania have changed greatly. Now, gradually clinicians, researchers and the society are coming up in understanding the concept of Kleptomania and its psychiatric perspective. Now let us look into some of the treatment interventions available to treat Kleptomania:

Treatment of Kleptomania

Kleptomania is treated with an amalgamation of treatment interventions. It yields best treatment outcomes when pharmacological interventions and psychological therapies are used together. Anti-anxiety drugs plus Cognitive Behavioral Therapies are seen to have the most effective results in the treatment of Kleptomania.