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What is Kleptomania?

What is kleptomania? Individuals with kleptomania have an uncontrollable urge to steal. Learn more here.

What is Kleptomania? 

Kleptomania is often dismissed as shoplifting, petty theft, or just a lack of impulse control. However, studies suggest that kleptomania is a mental health condition and an impulse control disorder.1 

Kleptomania accounts for hundreds of thousands of shoplifting arrests each year and about $500 million in retail losses nationwide.2

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Defining Kleptomania

Kleptomania is defined as the recurrent inability to resist urges to steal items you generally do not need. Kleptomania is a serious mental health disorder that often leaves the affected individuals with feelings of guilt and shame.3

Kleptomania: Is it a Compulsion?

People with kleptomania do not steal out of the material need or out of fun or anger. Instead, they act on a strong desire to steal. The pressure only fades after they steal an item.

Bouts of kleptomania tend to occur spontaneously without prior planning or collaboration from another person. Most individuals steal from public places such as stores or supermarkets. However, some may steal from friends and family. 

How Common is Kleptomania?

Current statistics show that 6 in 1000 people in the United States have kleptomania. This data shows that about 1.2 million adults in the American population suffer from the condition.4

Similarly, around 63% of people who have the condition are females indicating that women are more likely to have kleptomania than men.5

Symptoms of Kleptomania 

Kleptomania symptoms may include:

  • Acting on the feeling of the need to steal something that is not needed
  • Being unable to control acting on the feeling of needing to steal something unneeded
  • Feelings of tension, discomfort, or anxiety before stealing
  • Feelings of pleasure, relief, or satisfaction during or immediately after the theft
  • Feelings of shame, guilt, or negative feelings of self after stealing
  • Fear of getting arrested after h ppl pond
  • Continuation of the cycle of stealing and associated feelings

What Causes Kleptomania?

The cause of kleptomania is still largely unknown. However, several theories suggest that changes in the brain may be the fundamental cause of kleptomania.

Factors that Influence Kleptomania

Although further research is needed to understand these possible causes, kleptomania can be linked to the following: 

  • Existing psychiatric disorder: Individuals with kleptomania often have other mental disorders such as eating disorders, bipolar disorders, anxiety disorders, etc.
  • Genetics: Individuals with a family history of kleptomania, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or alcohol or substance use disorder may increase the risk of getting kleptomania.

Factors That Can Affect Your Addiction to Kleptomania

The following factors may affect your addiction to kleptomania:

The Brain's Opioid System

The brain's opioid system controls urges. An imbalance in this system could make it difficult to resist urges. In addition, the things you steal have little value as you easily afford them should you decide to pay for them.

A Mixture of Emotions

After stealing, you get a sense of pleasure and relief. Occasionally, you may feel guilt or remorse after the act, but you are still unable to control the action.

Addictive Disorders

Stealing may cause dopamine release, which causes pleasurable feelings. The more you enjoy the rush that comes with stealing, the more you want to do it to fill that emotional void in your life. 

How is Kleptomania Diagnosed? 

The doctor will conduct a thorough medical history and physical examination to evaluate if symptoms are present. There are no diagnostic tests for kleptomania such as x-rays or blood tests.6

However, tests may be used to rule out any physical causes of the behavior, such as head injury or brain disorder. In addition, the doctor may refer the individual to a psychiatrist or psychologist to evaluate the individual for an impulse control disorder.

Psychologists and psychiatrists use specially designed interview and assessment tools to access the individual.

Risk Factors That May Cause Kleptomania 

The following are risk factors that may cause kleptomania: 

Having Other Mental Disorders 

People with other mental illnesses have a higher chance of developing kleptomania. Mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder and eating disorders are often associated with kleptomania.

Problem With Low Levels of Serotonin 

Studies show that symptoms of kleptomania may be a result of low serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin helps regulate the moods, IQ, and emotions of an individual. 

Relations With Addictive Disorders

Other addictive disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and substance abuse disorder are linked to kleptomania.

An Imbalance in the Brain's Opioid System 

An imbalance in the brain's opioid system makes it hard to control urges. The brain's opioid system controls pain signals and other addictive behaviors.

Researchers believe that there is something amiss in the brains of people with compulsive disorders since they desire inappropriate rewards or greater rewards regardless of the risk involved.

A Family History of Kleptomania or Addiction 

Sometimes, kleptomania may be more prevalent in a family with several members affected by the condition. So, a person is more likely to develop kleptomania if more family members are diagnosed with the disorder. 

Head Trauma Like Concussions

Severe injuries to the orbital and frontal lobes of the brain can cause serious complications, including kleptomania. In addition, some other alterations in the axons and dendrites may also cause kleptomania.  

Treatment For Kleptomania 

There are several treatment options for kleptomania. Your doctor is likely to offer you the following; 


The most common treatment option for kleptomania is medication. One of such medications is selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). It helps to change how the brain processes the neurotransmitter serotonin.

Many people report a significant improvement in their impulse control and relief from compulsion months after taking SSRI medication.

The opioid antagonist is another medication that helps to block pleasurable feelings. It disrupts the risk-reward cycle of stealing and the pleasurable sensation and satisfaction. 

Psychotherapy Cognitive

Psychotherapy helps you identify unhealthy, negative beliefs and behaviors and replace them with healthy, positive ones.7 For example, to help you control your kleptomania urges, cognitive-behavioral therapy may include the following techniques: 

  • Covert sensitization: This occurs when you imagine yourself stealing and then experiencing negative consequences such as being caught.
  • Aversion therapy involves mildly painful techniques such as holding your breath until you become uncomfortable whenever you get an urge to steal. 
  • Systematic desensitization involves relaxation techniques and picturing yourself controlling the urges to steal.
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