Can A Child Have Kleptomania?
Kleptomania is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as one of the five standalone impulse control disorders. According to the Psychiatric Times, “impulse control disorders are common psychiatric conditions in which affected individuals typically report significant impairment in social and occupational functioning, and may incur legal and financial difficulties as well.” Specifically, kleptomania is characterized by an inability to control the impulse or urge to steal superfluous, meaningless items that usually have little value. A kleptomaniac will essentially be unable to resist the urge to steal, even items that they don’t need. Different factors can play a role in the development of kleptomania. Healthline indicates that biology and genetics likely contribute to a portion of the root causes, which include:
- Having other mental illnesses (e.g., bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, substance use disorders, or personality disorders)
- Problems with low levels of serotonin, leading to an increase in impulsive behaviors
- Relations with addictive disorders, since stealing can release the rush of dopamine that becomes addictive
- An imbalance in the brain’s opioid system, which controls urges
- A family history of kleptomania or addiction
- Sustaining head trauma, like concussions
Typically, a person with kleptomania begins showing symptoms in their late teens or in early adulthood. However, symptoms have been reported in children as young as five years old. While the age of onset can vary greatly, the average onset age of kleptomania is 17 years old.
Sign and Symptoms
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 out their thefts, instead acting upon impulse, and is more likely to steal things of little value or use. The Cleveland Clinic provides examples of signs and symptoms of kleptomania, some of which include the following:
- 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
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. Although kleptomania is a chronic condition, meaning there is no cure for kleptomania, with proper treatment a young person can learn to effectively manage its symptoms.
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