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Is Kleptomania An Addiction?

Is Kleptomania An Addiction?

The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law classifies kleptomania as a behavioral addiction. Kleptomania is a chronic mental health disorder that is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as one of the five standalone impulse control disorders. The Psychiatric Times explains that “impulse control disorders are common psychiatric conditions in which affected individuals typically report significant impairment in social and occupational functioning…” Psychiatric Times goes on to explain that the primary features of impulse control disorders include:

  • Repetitive engagement in a behavior despite negative consequences 
  • Inability to fully control the problematic behavior
  • Performing problematic behavior to release pressure or to feel pressure
  • Experiencing strong urges or cravings to engage in the problematic behavior

Specifically, kleptomania is characterized by a recurrent inability to resist the impulse or urge to steal superfluous, meaningless items that usually have little value. It is often accompanied by other psychiatric disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, substance use disorder, etc. However, it can also appear on its own. While the precise cause of kleptomania remains unknown, researchers suggest it is likely due to a combination of genetics, neurotransmitter abnormalities, and the presence of other psychiatric conditions.

Diagnostic Criteria

Kleptomania is typically diagnosed by a physician or mental health professional. The evaluating provider considers the diagnostic criteria for kleptomania, provided by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. To be diagnosed with kleptomania, according to the DSM-5, the following criteria must be met:

  1. Recurrent failure to resist impulses to steal objects that are not needed for personal use or for their monetary value. 
  2. Increasing sense of tension immediately before committing the theft. 
  3. Pleasure, gratification, or relief at the time of committing the theft. 
  4. The stealing is not committed to expressing anger or vengeance and is not in response to a delusion or a hallucination. 
  5. The stealing is not better accounted for by conduct disorder, a manic episode, or antisocial personality disorder.

Obtaining an accurate diagnosis is essential to the recovery process for any mental health illness. Although kleptomania is a chronic condition, meaning there is no kleptomaniac cure, with proper treatment a young person can learn to effectively manage its symptoms.

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Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know needs 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 a person’s life, the long term. Pursuing support at the beginning of one’s journey can put the individual in the best position to learn how to manage themselves in a healthy way so they can go on to live happy and fulfilling lives.

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