What Is Kleptomania?

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Kleptomania is a mental health disorder that involves an urge to steal and an inability to control that urge. Further, the person has no use for what is stolen. Instead, the act of stealing is driven by a feeling of tension or discomfort before stealing, and a feeling of pleasure or relief after stealing.

This is a rare disorder, affecting only 0.3% to 0.6% of people. It is also a serious condition linked to other risks, such as an attempted suicide rate that is nearly 25%. Kleptomania is also sometimes referred to as compulsive stealing.

Learn more about the symptoms, causes, and diagnosis of kleptomania, as well as how to cope and seek treatment when needed.

Stealing kleptomania

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Symptoms and Traits

The primary symptoms of kleptomania involve a lack of impulse control and feelings around stealing as opposed to having a need and inability to pay for what is stolen.

Symptoms of Kleptomania

  • 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 theft
  • Feelings of shame, guilt, or negative feelings of self after stealing
  • Fear of getting arrested after stealing
  • Continuation of the cycle of stealing and associated feelings

Traits

There is a difference between stealing out of need and stealing because of kleptomania. Those who are hungry, do not have money, and steal food to eat themselves or to feed their families are not stealing because of kleptomania.

Those with kleptomania steal because of their strong urges to steal, the feelings they experience with those urges, and because they are not able to control the urges. They generally either have no use for what they steal, have the money to afford what they steal, or both. Additionally, their thefts are generally not planned. The items stolen may be stored without being used, donated, given as gifts, or returned.

Causes

The causes of kleptomania are not entirely known, though researchers have developed theories. One potential cause is an imbalance of brain chemicals. Neurotransmitters are involved in sending messages in the brain, and when these chemicals are not balanced, there can be issues with the way the brain responds to urges.

Stress is another potential cause of kleptomania. The inability to maintain control of urges may be triggered by a big stressful event, or by the combination of smaller stressors. Kleptomania is a type of impulse-control disorder. Stress negatively impacts impulse control, so even if it is not the cause, it can make the problem worse.

Diagnosis

Kleptomania can be diagnosed by a psychologist, psychiatrist, or other mental health professional. While it is sometimes present along with other mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression, it is a separate diagnosis.

Kleptomania is an impulse-control disorder. Since stealing is the result of not being able to stay in control in response to feelings and urges, the health professional will ask questions to determine what is happening before, during, and after a theft. They will also confirm that the stealing behavior is not caused by anger, delusions, hallucinations, or another mental health disorder.

Treatment

Kleptomania is generally treated with therapy. However, it may be treated with medication or a combination of therapy and medication in some cases. There are different types of therapy and medications that may be used.

Psychotherapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a form of therapy that is typically used to treat kleptomania. This treatment helps people to identify and understand the connections between their thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors so they can make changes. CBT helps people learn how to control their actions in response to urges by exchanging unwanted thoughts and beliefs with thoughts and beliefs they choose to benefit the situation.

Medication

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet approved any medications specifically for the treatment of kleptomania. However, antidepressants or medications used to treat addictions may be considered in treating people with kleptomania to help control their urges to steal. Medications may also be used to treat mental health conditions, like depression and anxiety, that are sometimes present along with kleptomania.

If you or a loved one are struggling with kleptomania, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Coping

Support

One way of coping with kleptomania is to seek support beyond psychotherapy and medication treatment options. Communicating with friends and family can help them to understand kleptomania and provide support. Additionally, there are support groups specifically for kleptomania that may be helpful.

Tracking

Tracking patterns of kleptomania can help both patients and healthcare professionals to better understand what is going on and how to overcome the challenge.

The first step is to keep track of symptoms, when they occur, and the thoughts and feelings linked to those symptoms. This makes it easier to determine what situations, thoughts, and feelings are most likely to trigger urges to steal.

Stress Management

Since stress is linked to problems with impulse control, stress management techniques may help to lessen the symptoms of kleptomania and other impulse-control disorders.

What Is Stress Management?

Stress management can be anything the person with kleptomania finds relaxing, such as a hobby, a walk in nature, or journaling. This way of coping could also include learning specific stress management techniques. It may also help people with kleptomania to distance themselves from stores or other places in which they experience urges to steal when they are stressed.

A Word From Verywell

Kleptomania may be uncommon, but it is a real and serious mental health condition. If you or a friend or family member experiences symptoms of kleptomania, such as uncontrollable urges to steal when there is no need for what is stolen, help is available. Talk to a healthcare professional about what you are experiencing to determine if treatment is needed and to explore the options that are best for you.

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7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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