Kleptomania is one of those disorders that is commonly ridiculed, and is often the butt of a lot of jokes on TV and in movies. However, kleptomania is no laughing matter, as it is an impulse-control disorder that is related to similar mental illnesses such as eating disorders. In fact, kleptomaniacs typically have other problems that lead to the kleptomania itself, and often have issues with substance abuse or self-control.
Unlike people who steal for money or simply because they want an item and don’t want to pay for it, kleptomaniacs feel an impulse to steal even when they don’t want to use what they are stealing. The act of stealing itself is the draw for them. In order to dispel some of the myths, here are some interesting facts about kleptomania that you may not have been familiar with:
1. Kleptomania is often treated with antidepressants.
Because kleptomania is usually not the root problem, and in fact it is more of a sign of a deeper illness in the brain, many times mood-altering drugs like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s) are employed to treat this issue. Antidepressants, particularly SSRI’s are controversial even for those who simply suffer from depression, but they are nonetheless used to treat a variety of mental disorders, and appear to be effective for at least some people suffering from kleptomania.
2. Kleptomania is similar to obsessive-compulsive disorder and certain eating disorders.
There is no universal consensus among psychologists, though many view kleptomania as being an impulse-control problem caused by intrusive and obsessive thoughts about performing the act of stealing. Many kleptomaniacs don’t steal things that are particularly valuable, and instead derive a sense of relief or satisfaction from the theft, making them essentially addicted to stealing in the same way that others are addicted to drugs as a coping mechanism for the problems in their lives.
3. Cognitive behavioral therapy appears to help.
As with obsessive-compulsive disorder, cognitive behavior therapy appears to have an effect on sufferers and can in fact help them become more conscious of their thoughts and thus learn to curb the behavior.
4. People with kleptomania are often also compulsive hoarders.
It’s not surprising that those who compulsively steal may also feel the need to compulsively store their prizes somewhere, even if they never rationally intend to use them. Again, this is something that many kleptomaniacs share with those who have obsessive-compulsive disorder.
5. Pyromania and kleptomania often co-exist in the same person.
As mentioned, many kleptomaniacs have other similar impulse-control disorders at the same time, and this can often include pyromania. Many people who obsessively steal will also obsessively light other people’s property on fire.
6. Kleptomania was originally considered to be a symptom of hysteria.
As was common with other mental illnesses in the late 19th century and early 20th century, this impulse-control disorder was thought to be caused by reproductive issues in women. This was later proven to be false.
As you can see, kleptomania is a well-studied disorder that is certainly no joke. Luckily, thanks to modern psychology, much of the stigma from the past has faded and people are often able to get real help when they need it.