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How to Treat Kleptomania

written by: Keren Perles • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 4/12/2011

Many people suffering from kleptomania, or stealing due to an almost uncontrollable urge, may find it hard to admit that they need help. Once you've taken that step, however, treating kleptomania can take two main paths -- therapy and medication.

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    Difficulties in Treating Kleptomania

    Kleptomania, a condition in which a person feels compelled to steal is an impulse control disorder that is related to obsessive compulsive disorder. Treating kleptomania can be difficult, due to fear of retribution or humiliation, as well as due to the fact that researchers have not yet ascertained the perfect treatment protocol for the condition. There are two main types of treatment for kleptomania -- one revolves around therapy and the other around medication. Because it is common to have relapses during treatment, make sure to keep in touch with your practitioner during treatment.

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    Therapeutic Treatments

    The traditional protocol for treating kleptomania was insight-oriented therapy, a therapeutic technique that tackled underlying psychological problems that may have been motivating a person to steal. More recently, however, cognitive behavioral therapy has become the therapeutic treatment of choice. Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, motivates people with kleptomania to identify harmful beliefs that they have and replace them with positive, more realistic beliefs. CBT techniques include covert sensitization, or imagining yourself being caught stealing and dealing with the consequences; aversion therapy, or causing yourself discomfort when the urge to steal arises; and systematic desensitization, or the use of connecting relaxation techniques and imagery to your urge to steal.

    People with kleptomania may also benefit from other therapeutic treatments, such as psychodynamic therapy, family therapy or marriage counseling. These therapies should be used in conjunction with CBT and/or medication in order to effectively treat the symptoms of kleptomania.

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    Medications

    There is no one medication that works perfectly for anyone with kleptomania. Choosing the right medication depends on any other conditions you have (e.g., depression, OCD), side effects you may experience and your lifestyle. Understand that these medications may take several weeks to obtain the desired effect fully.

    One type of medication taken to control kleptomania symptoms are antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), including fluoxetine (e.g., Prozac), paroxetine (e.g., Paxil) and fluvoxamine. SSRIs are commonly used to treat OCD and depression. Some case reports have described SSRIs actually causing kleptomania symptoms to appear however, so stay closely monitored while on these medications.

    Other medications for kleptomania include mood stabilizers, tranquilizers and anti-seizure medications. Mood stabilizers decrease mood swings that may trigger a kleptomania episode. Tranquilizers, such as clonazepam and alprazolam, depress the nervous system but may cause mental or physical dependence. Anti-seizure medications, such as topiramate and valproic acid, have also helped in treating kleptomania symptoms in some people.

    There is no one right way to treat kleptomania, and no medication or therapy works for all people. If you feel yourself slipping, talk to your doctor, a kleptomania support group or a sympathetic parole officer to get help.

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    References

    Mayo Clinic. "Kleptomania: Treatments and Drugs." http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/kleptomania/DS01034/DSECTION=treatments-and-drugs

    Brain Physics. "Kleptomania." http://www.brainphysics.com/kleptomania.php

    Science Daily. "Kleptomania: No Universal Cure Found." http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/03/070314093246.htm

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