A popular disease, Kleptomania is a unique condition that compels sufferers to steal trivial items belonging to others. Learn all about this disease, including its causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment options.

Kleptomania Definition

It is an impulse disorder characterized by a persistent neurotic desire to steal small items of other people. Such slipping away of personal belongings is not guided by an economical motive. Rather, it comes from an irresistible urge that is seen as a mental problem.

Kleptomania Etymology

The name of this condition comes from a fusion of the Greek word, “kleptein” meaning “to steal” and the English term “mania” which stands for an irresistible although irrational motive.

Kleptomania Incidence

According to medical studies, 0.6% of the common population has been found to suffer from this disorder. Females are found to be the common sufferers of this condition. The disease has also been found to arise in as many as 7% people with a history of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Other studies have linked the disease to 65% patients with bulimia.

Kleptomania History

The condition was officially acknowledged as a disease for the first time in the U.S in the 1960s. It happened due to the wide media coverage received by the famous State of California vs. Douglas Jones case. The conclusion of the case saw the disease being officially recognized as a valid mental condition.

Kleptomania Symptoms

The disease is typically characterized by the following signs and symptoms:

  • Irresistible urge to sneak items belonging to others but unnecessary to the stealer
  • Increase in tension until the theft is committed
  • Experiencing a feeling of gratification or pleasure while sneaking
  • Experiencing immense shame or guilt after committing the theft

Unlike thieves, Kleptomaniacs do not steal for any personal gain. Nor do they have an inclination to exact revenge on revenge they steal from. The reason for their stealing is an urge that is too powerful for them to resist. It is this urge that makes them suffer from anxiety until they steal and suffer from guilt afterwards.

Patients of this disease are found to steal spontaneously without any planning from before. This establishes the fact that the action is impulsive and cannot be called a crime. Sufferers tend to steal from friends, family members, acquaintances or even public places such as supermarkets and stores. Generally, such individuals stash away the stolen items into some secret place, such as a personal trunk, box or safe. Some are also found to return these to their original places after sometime.

Generally, patients are not found to have any sentimental attachment to their stolen goods. They are often found to keep these items away and not use the belongings.

Kleptomania Causes

The exact cause of this disorder is not known as yet. Various theories associate the condition with changes in the brain. The disorder is possibly associated with a neurotransmitter (chemical in the brain) called Serotonin that occurs naturally. It is this chemical that helps regulate emotions and moods in humans. A deficiency of this neurotransmitter is found to be a common problem in individuals susceptible to impulse disorders.

The condition may also arise due to the release of another neurotransmitter called Dopamine. It is this chemical that gives rise to pleasurable feelings in humans.

The disorder may also be associated to addictive ailments. It can also arise after an individual suffers from an injury in the head.

Kleptomania Diagnosis

It is necessary to conduct a psychological and physical evaluation to confirm the presence of this disease. A physical examination can help physicians evaluate whether there is a physical cause that works as a trigger factor for the disease.

The diagnosis of this disorder does not involve any laboratory tests or examinations. The detection is mainly done on the basis of the signs and symptoms observe in patients. Kleptomania being a type of impulse disorder, its diagnosis involves asking patients about the feelings and sensations leading up to the theft and after it.

Diagnostic Criteria for Kleptomania

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), an individual must conform to certain criteria to be diagnosed with this condition. These include:

  • Inability to resist impulses to sneak objects that are unnecessary for personal use or not of any monetary value
  • Increase in tension in the moments leading to the act of stealing
  • Experiencing relief, gratification or pleasure during theft
  • Not committing the theft under delusions or hallucination or to express anger or exact revenge
  • The theft is not related to Bipolar disorder or any other mental syndrome, like Antisocial Personality Disorder

Kleptomania Treatment

Most patients refuse to undergo treatment for this disorder, due to embarrassment or humiliation. It is generally family members or friends who take patients to medical professionals after accidentally discovering an episode of the disease. In some cases, however, the patients themselves might seek medical treatment. Medical cure for this disease generally involves:


The use of drugs depends on the overall condition of a patient as well as the presence or absence of other conditions, such as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) or depression. Medicines used for the treatment of this condition include:


Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as fluvoxamine (Luvox CR, Luvox), paroxetine (Paxil CR, Paxil) and fluoxetine (Prozac Weekly, Prozac), are commonly used to cure the disease.

Anti-seizure medications

Although meant for curing seizures, these medicines have been shown to be effective in curing some mental health ailments (which may include Kleptomania). Such drugs include Valproic acid (Stavzor, Depakene) and Topiramate (Topamax).

Addiction medications

Naltrexone (Vivitrol, Revia), technically known as an opioid antagonist, blocks the brain section that experiences pleasure as a consequence of fulfillment of certain addictive behaviors. It may reduce the urges and pleasure associated with stealing.

Mood stabilizers

These medicines are used to stabilize the mood of patients so that they do not suffer from uneven or rapid changes in temper that give rise to the urge to steal. Lithium (Lithobid) is a common mood stabilizer used to treat the disease.


The condition may also be addressed with the help of Cognitive behavioral therapy. This therapeutic procedure has become a preferred treatment option for this disorder. This curative approach usually helps patients identify their negative and unhealthy beliefs and actions and replace them with positive behaviors. The process may include

Aversion therapy

Patients are asked to practice techniques that are mildly painful for them, such as holding their breath until the point of being uncomfortable whenever they feel a strong impulse to steal

Covert sensitization

The patient imagines themselves in the act of stealing followed by negative outcome, such as getting caught and punished

Systematic desensitization

Affected individuals are asked to practice relaxation techniques and imagine being successful in controlling their urge to commit theft

Kleptomania Risk Factors

The risk factors for this disease may involve:

Being female

Women are found to be more susceptible to this disorder than men. Around 2/3rd of all sufferers of this condition are found to be females.

Having a family history

Having a sibling or parent or any other first-degree blood relative with the condition or similar ailments, such as OCD, can make you more prone to Kleptomania.

Head or brain trauma

Injuries to the head or brain may also make an otherwise normal individual suffer from this disorder.

Presence of mental ailments

Presence of some other mental condition, such as eating disorders or bipolar disorder, may also make a person susceptible to this disease.

Kleptomania Complications

Unless treated in time, this condition may give rise to acute emotional problems as well as legal and financial issues. Many Kleptomaniacs have been arrested on charges of shoplifting and charges of stealing had been labeled at them. Arrest and imprisonment can make patients suffer from emotional and physical harassment for an underlying disorder that they no control over. Such individuals can face severe financial problems to pay for court cases and arranging money for their bail. Many of them are also found to suffer from serious depression and turn to alcohol for succor due to the emotional trauma faced by them. Many of them also withdraw from society and turn suicidal. All these can be avoided by seeking proper and timely treatment for such individuals.

Kleptomania Management

It is very difficult to cure this problem on your own. However, there are some ways that can help you manage the condition provided you have the will to do so. These steps include:

Adhering to treatment guidelines

Taking medicines as per doctor’s directions and attending therapy sessions can help you manage the disease and eventually get rid of it completely.

Treating your mental problems

As aforesaid, mental disorders such as Bipolar conditions can be a major contributory factor or the underlying cause of this disease. If you suffer from any mental problem, leaving it untreated or neglected can give rise to various unhealthy behaviors including Kleptomania. This necessitates immediate medicinal or therapeutic treatment.

Trying healthy activities

An unhealthy body acts as a seat for bad thoughts and actions. Try joining some recreational activity or start exercising regularly to de-stress yourself and channelize your negative urges. You may also try stress-management techniques such as tai-chi or yoga to reduce your anxiety.

Staying focused

Although it might seem difficult at times, you must remember that a strong will can overcome any obstacle in life. Keep in mind that you can root out the problem with determination and you need to stay focused on your goals to win over the disease. If that seems difficult, you should always seek the assistance of your doctor and never shy away due to embarrassment. Remember that not seeking professional help in time can cause you more embarrassment if you get caught while in the act of stealing.

Educating yourself

The more you know about the condition, the greater you can understand the workings of your own mind and take steps to prevent sneaking others’ objects. Use the World Wide Web and also get in touch with various organizations that provide assistance and support to Kleptomaniacs. Know all about the causes, symptoms and preventive measures associated with this disease to resist your urge to steal.

Kleptomania Self-Help Groups

Patients of this condition can contact various support and self-help groups that attempt to eradicate stealing habits of sufferers with the help of guidance and therapies. Two popular self-help organizations are mentioned below:

National Association for Shoplifting Prevention

225 Broadhollow Road

Ste. 400E

Melville, NY 11747

Toll-Free Telephone: (800) 848-9595

Telephone: (631) 923-2737

Fax: (631) 923-2743

Kleptomaniacs and Shoplifters Anonymous Group (C.A.S.A.)

9107 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 200

Beverly Hills, California 90035

Telephone: (310) 291-9104

Email: [email protected]

Kleptomania Prevention

There is no specific way of treating this disease as its causes are not exactly clear. Timely treatment, can, however prevent the disease from getting more complicated and avoid development of serious complications. Once the condition turns chronic, it can be more difficult to eradicate. If detected at an early age, the condition can be rooted out with the help of love and care. Patients should be given a healthy upbringing. They should form positive relationships and avoid stressful situations that can give rise to this disease.

Kleptomania Prognosis

There is no information about the exact outcome of this disease. As most cases of the condition go unreported due to patients shying away from medical treatment, the actual prognosis is not clear. In a few reported cases, antidepressant medicines have been found to have a positive effect on sufferers as is the case in the treatment of many psychological disorders.

If you are a Kleptomaniac, seek medical attention on an urgent basis before your stealing habits get out of hand. Visit a doctor and come clean about your conducts without any embarrassment. Admission of guilt to a doctor would not lead to arrest or any other problems as physicians are only interested in the betterment of health of their patients. If you feel shy, you can take a trusted family member or friend along.






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