Stealing is a fairly universal activity among most animal species and is all too common among us humans, even after we are presumably civilized. The usual motivation for stealing is the obvious goal of gaining some valuable booty.
This is what drives most shoplifters. Wall Street ,manipulators, tax evaders, professional burglars, embexlers, con artists, muggers, and those who steal to support a drug habit. As Willie Sutton wisely noted, people rob banks because that is where the money is.
On rare occasions, stealing is performed for a far more personal and less practical purpose as an act of vengeance, to satisfy a dare, or as a kind of “rite of passage” in joining a gang.
None of these reasons for stealing has anything to do with psychiatry in general or with Kleptomania specifically. Kleptomania is the least frequent and most puzzling of the reasons for stealing. You take objects not for their inherent value or because you need them, but rather because the very act of stealing gives you a thrill or, at the least, a relief from tension.
In fact, the stolen object may be completely worthless to you, a tin of canned ham taken in the supermarket, despite the fact that you find canned ham detestable. Once the act of stealing is completed and your feeling of tension has abated, you will probably ignore, discard, or even return the object to the store.
Ultimately, you get caught committing an embarrassing, seemingly ridiculous theft taking at great risk something of small value for which you have no need. Once apprehended, you don’t want to talk about the impulses that led to the stealing and focus instead on your shame, embarrassment, and guilt.
For many people with Kleptomania, the urge to steal is “triggered” by specific settings (supermarkets in general or a particular corner drugstore) or by types of objects (books, dresses, or penknives). The intensity of the urge to steal may also may vary at different times of the day or year and often increases in response to stress or boredom. The thefts are usually committed alone, in secret, impulsively, and without much professional polish.
People with Kleptomania rarely come for help spontaneously and are usually referred after being busted. If the act of theft makes sense to the judge, the disposition us usually to the criminal justice system.
Treatment options for Kleptomania. This is not a common condition and there is little research on how best to treat it. The major goal is to control the behavior before the person gets into serious trouble. Usually, this means achieving complete obstinacy. It is probably just as hard to stop at one theft as it is to stop at one drink.
It may be a good ides for the person to avoid the stores or other triggers that stimulate the urge to steal. Behavioral techniques include aversive conditioning, systematic desensitization and distraction. Antidepressants are usually tried, but with only mixed results.