Kleptomania - An Impulse Control Disorder

by Sam Malone

Kleptomania is described as an irresistible urge to steal something. The items that are stolen usually do not have much value or are not things that are really needed. The American Psychiatric Article System Association recognized kleptomania as a mental disorder in the 1950s. It is categorized as a type of Impulse Control Disorder along with other similar disorders such as pyromania, gambling and trichotillomania (chronic hair-pulling) where the impulse to commit a particular type of behavior is irresistible and addictive.  Experts still disagree whether kleptomania is a separate mental illness or rather a manifestation or symptom of another psychological condition such as Obsessive-Compulsive disorder or personality disorders.

People who suffer from the stealing behavior of kleptomania often keep the illness a secret out of shame and guilt. The cycle of stealing can cause severe damage to their personal and social relationships as well.


According to the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), the symptoms of kleptomania include:
  • A powerful and irresistible urge to steal items that are not necessary or have no monetary value
  • The theft is not planned and may occur spontaneously
  • An increase in tension, anxiety or arousal occurs leading up to the theft
  • The tension is relieved and pleasure is felt while stealing or during the act of the theft
  • The theft is not spurred on by feelings of anger or revenge or caused by delusions, hallucinations, alcohol or drug abuse or by impaired judgment symptomatic of dementia or mental retardation
  • Guilt, remorse and fear is felt post the act of stealing
  • This cycle of compulsive stealing repeats itself often
  • Kleptomania tends to occur first during adolescence and early adulthood

If you or someone you know cannot stop stealing, consult with a doctor or mental health specialist at the earliest. Fear of being arrested or jailed is one of the main reasons why people do not seek treatment for the condition.  Keep in mind that most doctors are not legally bound to report the stealing to the police or authorities and that getting treatment for the condition can help prevent more thefts in the future.


The exact cause of kleptomania is still unknown. One theory is that kleptomania may be linked to problems with serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter in the brain that helps control emotions and moods. People who suffer from impulsive control disorders usually have lower levels of serotonin. Another theory states that kleptomania may be connected to the release of dopamine. As seen in other cases of addictive behavior, the release of dopamine increases feelings of pleasure and gratification and causes a compulsive cycle of action and reward. Research also exists that suggests that kleptomania may develop as a result of trauma or injury to the head.

Certain people fall under the high-risk category for developing kleptomania and other impulse control disorders. These risk factors include: A family history of kleptomania or other mental disorders

  • Sex: There are more women diagnosed with kleptomania than men
  • Other Psychological Conditions: If you suffer from another mental illness such as anxiety disorder, personality disorder or substance abuse, you often develop kleptomania.


A diagnosis of kleptomania does not rely on any specific medical exam or tests. Rather, based on the criteria listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM published by the American Psychiatric Association, your symptoms will be evaluated and assessed. Psychological questionnaires may help confirm the diagnosis as well.

As mentioned earlier, a large percentage of cases of kleptomania remain undiagnosed due to the fear and shame felt by the person afflicted with the condition. If left untreated, kleptomania can result in severe emotional damage as well as legal and financial problems. Kleptomania can also lead to other complications such as substance abuse, depression, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, social isolation and suicidal tendencies.

  • Treatment for kleptomania generally involves medication, psychotherapy and counseling. Doctors work on a case-to-case basis and may try several different types of treatments before finding a combination that works. Medications for kleptomania include anti-depressants (SSRIs or Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), mood stabilizers (lithium), anti-seizure medications, and anti-addiction medications. Many of these medications come with their own set of side effects and complications. It may take a while before finding a correct combination of medications that provides the best results and the least side effects.
  • Psychotherapy for kleptomania includes CBT or cognitive behavioral therapy, aversion therapy, and counseling. Other forms of therapy that have proven useful include family therapy, marriage counseling and psychodynamic therapy.
  • Support groups provide the patient with education about the condition and resources to meet the challenges faced during recovery. Many people who suffer from kleptomania have benefited from attending groups based on the 12-step program of recovery from addiction.


  1. http://psych.med.nyu.edu/patient-care/conditions-we-treat/kleptomania

Warning: The reader of this article should exercise all precautionary measures while following instructions on the home remedies from this article. Avoid using any of these products if you are allergic to it. The responsibility lies with the reader and not with the site or the writer.

Warning: The reader of this article should exercise all precautionary measures while following instructions on the home remedies from this article. Avoid using any of these products if you are allergic to it. The responsibility lies with the reader and not with the site or the writer.
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