Kleptomania is an impulse control disorder characterized by the difficulty to control feelings and actions. The onset of the disorder is varied and can occur at any point in life but is most common earlier in life.

Kleptomania is an impulse control disorder characterized by the difficulty to control feelings and actions. People who have kleptomania may exhibit a persistent inability to refrain from stealing objects that are typically not needed and of modest cost. An individual with kleptomania has trouble resisting urges to steal and cannot manage their impulses. The onset of the disorder is varied and can occur at any point in life but is most common earlier in life.

What is Kleptomania?

The definition of kleptomania is the persistent impulse to steal.  Kleptomania is relatively uncommon and often begins during the teenage or young adult years. Individuals with kleptomania are not comparable to ordinary shoplifters, who impulsively steal for individual reward or to rebel. People with kleptomania do not steal for monetary gain but because they cannot resist the intense urge to steal. Generally, incidents of kleptomania are sudden and not planned or collaborated with another person. Most often, people with kleptomania steal from public establishments, but they may also steal from a friend or family member’s house. Stolen objects are often of little value to the person taking them, and they rarely use them. Stolen items may be put away, donated or given away.

Symptoms of Kleptomania

There are several symptoms of kleptomania including:

  • Persistent invasive thoughts
  • Incapability of resisting intense desire to steal unneeded objects
  • Elevated pressure, worry or excitement before the theft
  • Feeling of satisfaction, joy or fulfillment during the theft
  • Feelings of guilt, regret and shame following the theft
  • Reappearance of desires and continuation of kleptomania cycle
  • Low self-esteem

Causes of Kleptomania

Even though kleptomania has been around for many years, the cause of kleptomania is still unknown. However, some people believe that chemical changes in the brain may be the primary origin of kleptomania. Kleptomania may link to:

  • Decreased levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that manages mood and feelings
  • Theft may trigger the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter causing gratifying feelings, which may lead to addiction
  • An imbalance in the brain’s opioid system, making it difficult to refrain from urges
  • Overall inadequate regulation of serotonin, dopamine, and natural opioids in the brain

Diagnosing Kleptomania

The initial review of an intake assessment may not detect. Instead, an individual may receive a diagnosis when they seek treatment for another reason. Kleptomania is rarely the presenting problem, making it a typically under-diagnosed condition. People diagnosed with kleptomania often possess another co-morbid mood, anxiety, eating, impulse control or substance abuse disorder. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, DSM V, utilizes the following diagnostic criteria for kleptomania:

  • Recurrent incapability to resist urges to steal objects that are not necessary or for monetary gain
  • Elevated pressure directly before the theft
  • A sense of contentment and release while engaging in the theft
  • Theft is unrelated to revenge tactics, or in response to an illusion or hallucination
  • Theft is not a result of another type of conduct disorder, manic period or antisocial personality disorder

Who is at Risk for Kleptomania?

Family history can be a risk factor for kleptomania. An individual can be at increased risk if they have a parent or sibling with kleptomania, obsessive-compulsive disorder or is suffering from addiction. Another risk factor is the presence of a mental disorder, as individuals with kleptomania often have another mental health condition.

Kleptomania Statistics

There are several kleptomania facts pertaining to gender, prevalence and onset:

  • Approximately two-thirds of individuals with kleptomania are women
  • About .3 to .6 percent of the general population have kleptomania
  • There is a seven percent correlation of kleptomania to individuals with a history of obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Kleptomania is believed to be the explanation for approximately five percent of shoplifting
  • The typical onset of kleptomania occurs in late adolescence and early adulthood

Kleptomania and Substance Abuse

Kleptomania and substance abuse have several commonalities, including compulsive behavior, diminished control, and a strong need to partake in pleasure-seeking behaviors. The effects of kleptomania, including feelings of humiliation and culpability, can trigger individuals to self-medicate using drugs or alcohol. However, drug or alcohol abuse may worsen kleptomania symptoms as impairment from substances can cause further diminished control over problematic impulses.

It is important for individuals struggling with both substance abuse and kleptomania to receive dual diagnosis treatment for both conditions. While there isn’t a cure for kleptomania or substance use disorders, learning effective coping strategies or using prescribed medication can significantly improve the lives of impacted individuals.

Kleptomania Treatment

Individuals with kleptomania may resist seeking treatment due to fear of incurring legal consequences and penalties. However, kleptomania can have significant consequences emotionally, with loved ones, legally and financially if left untreated. There is no known cure for kleptomania, but treatment options include psychotherapy, medication or a combination of both to assist people in reducing or terminating negative impulses.

Kleptomania is a rare but under-diagnosed condition. People with kleptomania may not receive a diagnosis until they seek treatment for a concurrent condition, such as a mood disorder or eating disorder.

When kleptomania is co-occurring with a substance use disorder, integrated treatment is necessary. People who have kleptomania and a substance use disorder can receive help at one of the Recovery Village’s facilities located throughout the country.  If you or a loved one live with kleptomania and a substance use disorder, call the Recovery Village to speak with a representative and begin the healing process.

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Editor – Thomas Christiansen
With over a decade of content experience, Tom produces and edits research articles, news and blog posts produced for Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Tracy Smith, LPC, NCC, ACS
Tracy Smith is a Licensed Professional Counselor, a Nationally Certified Counselor, an Approved Clinical Supervisor, and a mental health freelance and ghostwriter. Read more
Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.