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Kleptomania is a recurrent failure to resist the impulse to steal objects not needed for personal use or their monetary value. There is an increasing sense of tension preceding the unplanned theft, followed by a relief at the time of the theft. The theft is not done with others and not done out of anger or vengeance. Because kleptomaniacs obtain gratification from the act of stealing rather than from possession of the stolen articles, they often steal objects of little value that they could easily buy.
It is a psychiatric condition better recognised in the US, where the actor Winona Ryder was arrested in December 2001, after being caught in Saks Fifth Avenue on the sort of camera she would never have posed for, stuffing clothes she hadn't paid for into her bag. She told the court, which convicted her of theft, that she was getting into character for the part of a kleptomaniac in a new film.
Kleptomania affects mostly women and is hard to distinguish from plain criminal shoplifting. But frequently these petty thieves have underlying depression and have suffered from eating disorders - bulimia or anorexia nervosa. None of that may be picked up when they are hauled off to the police station or brought to stand in the dock months later.
So it is more than likely that many women with this psychological disorder - it gives them a marked sense of relief as they scurry from the department store with a pillowcase under their coat - are now in jail, their lives destroyed by the stain of criminality. Although psychiatrists regard kleptomania as an impulse control disorder, the disorder is not recognized as a legal defense for theft in U.S. or British courts.
The DSM IV says about Kleptomania:
DSM-IV 312.32 KleptomaniaDiagnostic Features
The essential feature of Kleptomania is the recurrent failure to resist impulses to steal items even though the items are not needed for personal use or for their monetary value.
Criterion A- The individual experiences a rising subjective sense of tension before the theft
Criterion B-Feels pleasure, gratification, or relief when committing the theft
Criterion C-The stealing is not committed to express anger or vengeance, is not done in response to a delusion or hallucination.
Criterion D-And is not better accounted for by Conduct Disorder, a Manic Episode, or Antisocial Personality Disorder
Criterion E-The objects are stolen despite the fact that they are typically of little value to the individual, who could have afforded to pay for them and often gives them away or discards them.
Many kinds of therapy have been used to treat this disorder, but it is not clear which one is best. Cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT) is a way to help you identify and change views you have of yourself, the world, and the future that are not realistic. This therapy helps you recognize unhealthy ways of thinking. You will learn new thought and behavior patterns that lead to healthier living. Treatment may involve changing behavior with conditioning techniques. Aversive conditioning involves using negative stimuli to reduce or eliminate a behavior. In covert sensitization, you first relax and imagine stealing. Then, you imagine something negative, such as getting your hand stuck in the revolving door of the store. With assisted aversive conditioning, the negative event is real rather than imagined. For example, your therapist sprays a bad smell such as ammonia in the air. The goal is for you to link your behavior with something negative and avoid both. Medicines such as lithium, naltrexone (ReVia), paroxetine (Paxil), sertraline (Zoloft), citalopram (Celexa), fluoxetine (Prozac), and other antidepressants may also help. Family therapy may also be important, since this disorder can affect families as well as the person who steals.