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 is often co-occurring with substance abuse disorders. The effects of kleptomania, including feelings of humiliation and culpability, can trigger a substance abuse disorder. Individuals may seek to self-medicate using alcohol and drugs. General characteristics of behaviors coupled with theft often result in substance abuse. Kleptomania and addiction have several commonalities, including compulsive behavior, diminished control, a strong need to partake in behavior and a pleasure-seeking goal.

Drug or alcohol abuse may worsen kleptomania symptoms. An addiction also includes impulse and pleasure-seeking rewards, which can worsen symptoms of kleptomania. Impairment from substances can cause further diminished control over problematic impulses.

Kleptomania and Alcohol

Alcohol serves to intensify poor decision making and negative impulses. Alcohol is a relaxant, which further intensifies poor impulse control and lack of restraint.

Kleptomania and Marijuana

Marijuana increases impulsive responses by making individuals slower and more likely to make mistakes. Marijuana reduces the frontal cortex’s ability to control behavior. Chronic marijuana use impairs impulse control, thus causing those with kleptomania to have reduced control over urges.

Kleptomania and Stimulants

Stimulants can aggravate several kinds of impulsive behavior. Cocaine increases impulses by causing individuals to react more quickly and to make more errors. Cocaine is believed to increase impulsive reactions from specific areas of the brain.  Ongoing use of methamphetamine can change brain functioning and lead to heightened impulsivity.

Kleptomania Treatment

Individuals who have 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 centers offer psychotherapy, medication or a combination of both to assist people in reducing or terminating negative impulses.

Therapy for Kleptomania

Psychotherapeutic treatments are generally directed towards impulse control and can include:

Medication for Kleptomania

There are several medication options for treating kleptomania including:

  • Tricyclic antidepressants, such as imipramine and nortriptyline and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, such as Prozac, Luvox, Paxil or Zoloft reduce depression and stabilize moods to control theft
  • Mood stabilizers, such as lithium and valproate seek to control mood swings that occur before, during and after the theft
  • Opioid receptor antagonists, such as naltrexone are utilized to reduce symptoms related to desire and inclination. These medications attempt to manage compulsion to steal along with pleasure derived from stealing successfully.

Kleptomania is a rare but under-diagnosed condition. Individuals may not seek treatment due to fear of legal ramifications and consequences. People with kleptomania may not receive a diagnosis until they seek treatment for a concurrent condition, such as a mood or anxiety disorder, a substance use disorder or an eating disorder, which are all widespread co-occurring conditions. There is no known cause for kleptomania, but there are several treatments available to help individuals manage the 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.