Kleptomania, that irrepressible disorder that has also put science into crisis

According to Treccani, kleptomania is defined as a “morbid tendency towards theft” and is associated with cases that are very different from each other in terms of psychological genesis and clinical value, considered as symptoms …

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According to Treccani, kleptomania is defined as a “morbid tendency towards theft” and is associated with cases that are very different from each other in terms of psychological genesis and clinical value, considered as symptoms of intellectual and ethical decadence.

Since a specific etiology for this behavioral disorder has never been recognized, due to the uncertainty of the clinical state, and therefore since there is no formal pathological diagnosis, kleptomania was deliberately omitted from official certifications for centuries, until, in 1980, was included as a pathology in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III), and defined as an “impulse control disorder not elsewhere classified”, with disruptive behavior, and problems with self-control of emotions, of an explosive nature and intermittent.

All existing neurobiological studies on the impulse to steal have not identified cerebral, hormonal or neurocognitive deficits, no histological, genetic or metabolic defects, no comorbidity with other diseases, so this uncertain syndrome in Medicine still floats among the psychiatric disorders of obsessive, compulsive and affective spectrum, even if the many drugs available used for these syndromes have spectacularly failed in thieving patients, for whom there are no approved targeted drugs, demonstrating the prevalence of the etiology with an exclusively behavioral tendency.

And it is precisely the behavior of kleptomaniacs that puts the scientific community in difficulty. Thefts are generally not planned, they are not carried out out of revenge, anger or delirium, but are simply carried out due to the inability to resist the compelling desire to steal objects, which could often be purchased without economic difficulties, when the subject frequents places of “temptation” such as supermarkets, shops, duty free and similar. Furthermore, the act of stealing, often preceded by increasing tension, is then accompanied by a posthumous feeling of pleasure and relief. The kleptomaniac, despite realizing the gravity of the act and accusing self-disapproval, does not feel guilt and shame, rather emotionally savors the beneficial peak of adrenaline.

There are three psychological traits that characterize kleptomaniacs: disinhibition, impulsiveness and the tendency to take risks to obtain rewards. The disorder often manifests itself in people subjected to rigid rhythms, strongly oppressed by rules, towards which they feel a sort of liberation, taking pleasure in escaping from them.

Case studies say that the incidence is greater in women, who are more prone to anxiety disorders and to curbing their character instincts, but there is no shortage of male percentages who act with the bravado of cunning rather than with the cunning of a thief, often acting without the typically feminine dexterity. The onset of symptoms usually occurs during adolescence, but is very frequent in adulthood (sporadic action with periods of remission or chronic), while when it occurs in senile age it is associated with depressive symptoms in response to the physiological cognitive decline.

Stealing has always been considered a reprehensible and illegal act, especially if it is committed without obvious necessity. Kleptomania differs from theft in that these behaviors are often spontaneous and are carried out in the throes of mood disorders, in full capacity to understand, but not to want, since one is unable to rationally oppose or restrain oneself. In psychiatry it is seen as a psychological revenge of fragile individuals, a compensatory act to a desire for punishment or revenge, to atone for a sentence with the aim of temporary personal gratification. In jurisprudence, however, it is not rightly evaluated as a mental defect that can undermine the ability to understand, but as a behavior that affects imputability only in the case in which it is possible to demonstrate that the crime was committed due to a sudden impulse. and uncontrollable; even if, as it is almost always not possible to outline the profile of the disease, the simple impulse to steal is not considered kleptomania by law and does not exclude the responsibility of the new Arsenio Lupin.

In fact, in every legal system, the conduct of those who take possession of property that is not theirs is punished (imprisonment from 6 months to 3 years). In any case, true kleptomania is a condition that is not easy to diagnose either scientifically or legally, because the disorder proceeds unnoticed and often overlaps with other disorders of the intimate and psychological sphere.

Last week, following a well-known news story, all the newspapers and media covered the topic of kleptomania, including the director of the Fatto Quotidiano Marco Travaglio, who, in his column “Do me a favor” on 29 April , wrote a lightning-fast, immediate, legal and, if you like, even scientific summary of the topic, simply quoting a famous phrase by the poet Trilussa: «The servant is a thief, the mistress is a kleptomaniac».