Kleptomania: Phenomenological, Clinical and Legal Aspects
R. Durst, G. Katz, K. Jabotinsky-Rubin, H.Y. Knobler
Kfar Shaul Mental Health Center, Jerusalem
Kleptomania is currently classified in psychiatric nomenclature as one of the impulse control disorders (DSM-IV, 1994). It is characterized by repeated failure to resist impulses to steal objects, not for personal use or monetary gain. The objects are therefore discarded, given away, or hoarded (ICD-10, 1992). This disorder is known since the early 18th century from the phenomenological and clinical viewpoints, yet is still debated with regard to therapeutic strategies and criminal liability. Although there are usually complications associated with the legal consequences of being caught and arrested, subjects continue to violate the law despite repeated arrests and convictions. In a 28-year old man suffering from kleptomania, years of psychodynamic psychotherapy were ineffective. Only when he was treated as suffering from an impulse control disorder or a variant of obsessive-compulsive disorder, was there significant improvement. The positive response to buspirone (5-HT1A) augmentation of fluvoxamine (SSRI) suggested that disturbed central serotonergic neurotransmission might play an important role in the pathogenesis of kleptomania. This concept is strengthened by the comorbidity of the syndrome with depression and by its compulsive traits. We stress that although kleptomaniacs cannot differentiate between right and wrong, testing shows that their sense of reality is intact, but they act under the influence of drives they cannot resist.