Kleptomania and Teens
Kleptomania is the term for the inability to resist the urge to steal items that generally have little value.
Those afflicted are unable to control the urge to steal even items that they don’t need. Although it is fairly rare, Kleptomania is a serious mental health disorder which can have serious consequences. The impacts on family members and loved ones as well as the legal implications can be difficult and long lasting.
Like many other mental disorders, Kleptomania begins with inability to control one’s own behaviors. A teen with Kleptomania is unable to control the impulse to commit acts that may be harmful to themselves or others. The impulse to steal is often too strong for them to resist.
Kleptomania is often accompanied by other psychiatric disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, substance abuse disorders, etc. However, it can also appear on its own. It most commonly begins in childhood, adolescence, or young adulthood, but can even present in adults. Kleptomania is distinguishable from other types of shoplifting because typical shoplifters will plan out their thefts, often stealing items of value that they need or desire but cannot afford. In contrast, a Kleptomaniac will usually not plan their thefts out, instead acting upon sudden impulse, and is more likely to steal things of little value or use. It is important to know the symptoms of Kleptomania so that you can identify them if they begin to develop in your teen. While there is no “cure”, it can be treated and managed.
Symptoms of Kleptomania
- Recurrent impulses to steal
- Escalated sense of pressure prior to stealing
- Instances of stealing objects which have little or no value
- Feelings of relief, pleasure, and gratification when an object is stolen
- Pathological lying
- Thefts cannot be explained by other disorders
If you begin to notice your teen exhibiting signs of Kleptomania, you should first try talking to them about it. If you catch them stealing, do not get angry with them and immediately punish them without giving them a chance to talk about it first. Take note of what they stole. Was it something expensive or of little value? If the item you caught your teen stealing was something they wouldn’t have a use for, or something of little value, you may begin to suspect Kleptomania. Ask them why they stole the object. If their response is that they had an impulse to or felt that they had to steal, ask them to elaborate further. Ask if this happens often. Ask if they felt a rush of excitement after committing the theft. If your teen answers yes to these questions, you may consider seeking professional medical help. That being said, know that Kleptomania only accounts for about 5% of all thefts. Your teen may also be stealing as a way to rebel. If this is the case, you should be the judge of what the appropriate punishment at home should be.
If your teen is diagnosed with Kleptomania, there are options for treatment that can help to make sure they can lead a normal and happy life. Do not try to take matters into your own hands. Find a mental health professional in your area who is familiar with Kleptomania and can help you come up with the right treatment plan for your teen.
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and other antidepressants
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy and other types of psychotherapy
- Naltrexone and other addiction medications
- Covert sensitization – the teen will learn to visualize themselves stealing and then visualize the negative consequences
- Aversion therapy – the teen will practice mildly painful techniques such as holding their breath or pinching themselves whenever they start to feel the urge to steal
- Systematic desensitization – the teen will be taught to practice relaxation techniques such as meditation and will be urged to visualize themselves not giving in to their urges to steal
There are many types of treatment that could work very well for your teen, many which don’t involve the use of medication. Do your own research and ask your teen’s doctor what type of treatment may be right for them.
For Information and Support
Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know is in need of mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact an individual for the long term. The earlier you seek support, the sooner you and your loved ones can return to happy, healthy and fulfilling lives.
Our admissions team is available to answer any general questions regarding mental health issues, treatment, and/or specific questions about the program at Pacific Teen Treatment and how we might be able to help your family. We can be reached by phone 24/7 at 800-531-5769.
- psychologytoday.com“Kleptomania”. Psychology Today Staff. 2019.
- mayoclinic.org“Kleptomania”. Mayo Clinic Staff. 2019.
- clevelandclinic.org“Kleptomania”. Cleveland Clinic Staff. 2019.