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Kleptomania Symptoms

Kleptomania isn’t a tween girl stealing nail polish or a teenage boy stealing a video game from the store. Kleptomania occurs when the uncontrollable urge to steal is caused by a serious mental health disorder. This disorder affects upwards of 1.2 million Americans according to an article published on The National Institute of Health‘s website.

impulse control

Kleptomaniacs feel an uncontrollable impulse to steal things.

Kleptomania is an impulse control disorder characterized by the uncontrollable desire to steal things of little or no value, but the disorder has several notable symptoms.

An Intense Urge

As stated earlier, kleptomania is characterized by an intense urge to steal. Often kleptomaniacs don’t need the things they take and don’t use them either. Most of the time, these stolen goods don’t have value like paper clips, pens, or spoons. Kleptomaniacs steal only to alleviate the building tension and stress that originates from the need to steal. Sufferers are often anxious and restless before stealing. This is one of the most obvious kleptomania symptoms.

It’s Compulsive

Little or no planning goes into what gets taken by kleptomaniacs. Nor do they plan when they will do steal or and where they steal from. Kleptomania is truly an impulse control disorder that causes irresistible, unplanned stealing whenever the desire arises. Most of the time, kleptomaniacs steal from public whenever the whim overtakes them, but they do steal from family and friends too.

Feelings Afterward

Many kleptomaniacs feel intense relief after giving into their urges; the anxiety and restlessness subside giving them a sense of reprieve. Some feel euphoric from relief and others feel guilty because they know stealing isn’t legal or acceptable. Even more, some suffer from remorse and self-hatred because they couldn’t overcome or ignore the urge and stole again. Since most kleptomaniacs can’t control their disorder, the anxiety and restlessness begin to build again, they give in to the impulse, and feel guilty, fearful, or hate themselves even more. It’s a vicious cycle.

It’s Not Obvious

Most kleptomaniacs don’t exhibit any signs of antisocial disorders or manic behavior. These people don’t behave inappropriately in social settings, they aren’t aggressive,  combative, or psychotic. Most kleptomaniacs don’t have cohorts and don’t want one. When the urge overtakes their sensibility, they stealthily choose the item they want and leave the store or social gathering immediately after stealing their item. Kleptomaniacs often have a collection of stolen items stashed away.

Hard to Diagnose

Kleptomania has no known causes, but is suspected to be related to serotonin dysfunction or addiction. For a doctor to diagnose this disorder, criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders must be met including:

  • Uncontrollable urge to take objects that aren’t worth much or have little use
  • Building anxiety prior to stealing
  • Theft isn’t related to revenge or rage
  • There are no hallucinations or delusions
  • Relief, enjoyment, or satisfaction after theft
  • No other bipolar or mental disorders present

While kleptomania is somewhat rare, it is treatable. There are mood stabilizing medications and cognitive behavior techniques to help kleptomaniacs resist their urges.