Kleptomania is an irresistible urge to steal items of trivial value. People with this disorder are compelled to steal things, generally, but not limited to, objects of little or no significant value, such as pens, paper clips, paper and tape. Some kleptomaniacs may not even be aware that they have committed the theft.

Kleptomania was first officially recognized in the US as a mental disorder in the 1960s in the case of State of California v. Douglas Jones.

Kleptomania is distinguished from shoplifting or ordinary theft, as shoplifters and thieves generally steal for monetary value, or associated gains and usually display intent or premeditation, while kleptomaniacs are not necessarily contemplating the value of the items they steal or even the theft until they are compelled without motive.

Increasing brain research and clinical work indicate that shoplifting and stealing can become addictive-compulsive disorders. Hence, the terms “shoplifting addiction” or “theft addiction” or “compulsive theft or stealing” have gained popularity and credence recently. There even are books and support groups devoted to recovery from addictive-compulsive shoplifting or stealing. Most “theft addicts” are neither kleptomaniacs nor typical criminals who steal for profit or due to sociopathic or characterological issues.

This disorder usually manifests during puberty and, in some cases, may last throughout the person’s life.

People with this disorder are likely to have a comorbid condition, specifically paranoid, schizoid or borderline personality disorder. Kleptomania can occur after traumatic brain injuryand/or carbon monoxide poisoning.

Kleptomania is usually thought of as part of the obsessive-compulsive disorder spectrum, although emerging evidence suggests that it may be more similar to addictive and mood disorders. In particular, this disorder is frequently co-morbid with substance use disorders, and it is common for individuals with kleptomania to have first-degree relatives who suffer from a substance use disorder.

Relationship to OCD

Kleptomania is frequently thought of as being a part of obsessive-compulsive disorder, since the irresistible and uncontrollable actions are similar to the frequently excessive, unnecessary and unwanted rituals of OCD. Some individuals with kleptomania demonstrate hoarding symptoms that resemble those with OCD.

Prevalence rates between the two disorders do not demonstrate a strong relationship. Studies examining the comorbidity of OCD in subjects with kleptomania have inconsistent results, with some showing a relatively high co-occurrence (45%-60%) while others demonstrate low rates (0%-6.5%). Similarly, when rates of kleptomania have been examined in subjects with OCD, a relatively low co-occurrence was found (2.2%-5.9%).

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