Kleptomania symptoms may include:

  • Inability to resist powerful urges to steal items that you don't need
  • Feeling increased tension, anxiety or arousal leading up to the theft
  • Feeling pleasure, relief or gratification while stealing
  • Feeling terrible guilt, remorse, self-loathing, shame or fear of arrest after the theft
  • Return of the urges and a repetition of the kleptomania cycle

Features

People with kleptomania typically exhibit these features or characteristics:

  • Unlike typical shoplifters, people with kleptomania don't compulsively steal for personal gain, on a dare or out of rebellion. They steal simply because the urge is so powerful that they can't resist it.
  • Episodes of kleptomania generally occur spontaneously, usually without planning and without help or collaboration from another person.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Urges to steal may come and go or may occur with greater or lesser intensity over the course of time.

When to see a doctor

If you can't stop shoplifting or stealing, seek medical advice. Many people who may have kleptomania don't want to seek treatment because they're afraid they'll be arrested or jailed. However, a mental health provider typically doesn't report your thefts to authorities.

Some people seek medical help because they're afraid they'll get caught and have legal consequences. Or they've already been arrested, and they're legally required to seek treatment.

Getting treatment may help you gain control over your kleptomania.

If a loved one has kleptomania

If you suspect a close friend or family member may have kleptomania, gently raise your concerns with your loved one. Keep in mind that kleptomania is a mental health condition, not a character flaw, and approach your loved one without blame or accusation.

It may be helpful to emphasize these points:

  • You're concerned because you care about your loved one's health and well-being.
  • You're worried about the risks of compulsive stealing, such as being arrested, losing a job or damaging a valued relationship.
  • You understand that, with kleptomania, the urge to steal may be too strong to resist just by "putting your mind to it."
  • Effective treatments are available to minimize the urge to steal and help your loved one live without addiction and shame.

If you need help preparing for this conversation, talk with your doctor. He or she may refer you to a mental health provider who can help you plan a way of raising your concerns without making your loved one feel defensive or threatened.

Nov. 11, 2014

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