Kleptomania is an impulse control disorder that affects approximately 1.2 million American adults. Learn how to recognize signs of kleptomania in someone you know and how to help.

Kleptomania is often a misunderstood disorder. Most people view it as an act of deviant or criminal behavior, but it’s categorized as an impulse control disorder. Kleptomania is defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5) as a recurring failure to resist impulses to take or steal items that are not needed for personal use or monetary value. Someone with kleptomania often knows that stealing is wrong, but they experience a sense of pleasure, gratification or relief while committing the theft. However, after the theft they usually experience feelings of guilt and shame.

Similar to the portrayal of disorders like schizophrenia or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), kleptomania is often portrayed in the media inaccurately. Unfortunately, many people think of someone with kleptomania as a thief and people who live with the disorder typically receive little sympathy. Kleptomania is a disease, but because of how it’s perceived by the public and the stigma that is associated with the disorder, someone with kleptomania may avoid seeking treatment.

How to Recognize Kleptomania

You may start to notice items missing from around your house or office. It could be that you’re just forgetful, but there is also the possibility that someone you know is living with kleptomania. If you suspect that you may have kleptomania, some additional signs and symptoms that can identify kleptomania behavior include:

  • Persistent intrusive thoughts
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of pleasure and joy during theft
  • Feelings of regret and shame after theft
  • Elevated alertness

People with kleptomania typically steal from stores, but they may also steal from friends and family members. They usually take things that aren’t valuable thinking that they won’t be suspected or that the item won’t be missed. However, people with kleptomania typically develop elevated alertness. If someone starts acting odd around you or becomes secretive when you return to a room, it’s possible they have kleptomania.

Stealing Versus Kleptomania

The biggest difference between stealing and kleptomania is that kleptomania is a mental health disorder. Stealing is conscious, planned and an organized crime to gain monetary or material possessions. Kleptomania is impulsive and does not involve financial or material gain.

How To Talk to Your Friend About Getting Treatment

Because someone who has kleptomania isn’t stealing for their benefit, they may not view their mental disorder as a problem. It’s important to remember that kleptomania is a mental illness and you should be sensitive to that. Talking to a friend about getting treatment for their kleptomania is a delicate procedure since you don’t want them to dismiss you, but you want to be taken seriously about your concerns.

You should also approach someone with kleptomania with understanding. They know that stealing is wrong and illegal, but because of their embarrassment, they may not want to talk about it or seek treatment. By being understanding and providing encouragement, your friend or loved one is more likely to seek treatment for kleptomania.

Treatment for kleptomania typically involves psychotherapy and medications may be used for co-occurring disorders like depression or OCD. These co-occurring disorders may have developed as a result of kleptomania, which is why it’s critical to get treatment for kleptomania. If the disorder goes untreated, additional disorders can develop. People with kleptomania may develop a substance use disorder from trying to counter or reduce their impulsive behavior.

If you or someone you know struggles with a substance use disorder and a co-occurring disorder like kleptomania, help is available. At The Recovery Village, a team of professionals can design a treatment plan for substance use and co-occurring disorders. Call and speak with a representative to learn more about which treatment program could work for you.

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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

Aboujaoude, Elias; Gamel, Nona; Koran, Lorrin M. “Overview of Kleptomania and Phenomenolog[…]tion of 40 Patients.” NCBI. 2004. January 11, 2019.

The Recovery Village Editorial Team. “Kleptomania.” The Recovery Village, January 11, 2019. January 14th, 2019.

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.