HomePsychiatristWhat is Kleptomania? What is the Treatment Procedure for Kleptomania?

What is Kleptomania? What is the Treatment Procedure for Kleptomania?

Kleptomania is characterized by an uncontrollable, recurring urge to steal. It shares similarities with mood and addictive disorders. This is a disorder that occurs very rarely but can be extremely distressing.

What is Kleptomania?

Kleptomania is an impulse control disorder that falls under the obsessive-compulsive spectrum. Kleptomaniacs do not steal for financial gain, for revenge, on a dare, or out of rebellion. Instead, they acquire things that are of little or no value. These items are usually not required and are easily affordable. Unlike normal thieves, kleptomaniacs rarely use the products they steal. They usually stash them, throw them away, give them to someone else, or even secretly return them to the owner. They steal simply due to a powerful urge that compels them to do so.

What are the Symptoms of Kleptomania?

The signs of kleptomania are as follows:

  • Inability to control your strong desire to steal things
  • An uncontrollable urge to steal an item you do not need or that you can easily afford
  • Feelings of increased anxiety, stress, and/or arousal before the theft
  • Feelings of relief, gratification, and/or pleasure during the theft
  • Feelings of intense guilt, fear of arrest, self-loathing, remorse, and/or shame after the theft
  • Repetition of these urges in the same pattern
  • Presence of other disorders such as anxiety, eating, and substance abuse
  • The occurrence of kleptomania episodes that are spontaneous and without collaboration or planning

When to See the Doctor?

If you are unable to quit stealing, visit a doctor to seek medical attention. Most kleptomaniacs do not seek diagnosis and treatment due to the fear of being arrested and jailed. However, it is essential to note that a mental health professional will not report confidential matters like your thefts to the authorities.

If you suspect someone close to you may have kleptomania, raise your concerns with them gently and politely. Remember not to sound accusing as this disorder is a mental health issue and not a character flaw. Make them aware of the impacts and consequences of their disorder and advise them to seek medical help.

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What are the Causes of Kleptomania?

The cause of kleptomania is widely debated. Several theories claim that it is linked to the changes in brain parameters. It may be linked to the following:

  • Problems with Serotonin: Serotonin is a brain chemical that modulates your mood and emotions. If you are affected by kleptomania, the chances are that this chemical is low in level.
  • Addiction: If you are a kleptomaniac, you may feel pleasure after stealing. This feeling of pleasure is caused by dopamine, another brain chemical. You may get addicted to this feeling of being rewarded  and seek theft more often due to this neurotransmitter.
  • The Brain’s Opioid System: This system in the brain regulates your urges. An imbalance in this system may make it impossible for you to resist urges.
  • Psychoanalytic Models: Several psychoanalytic theorists claim that this disorder is an attempt to obtain a symbolic replacement for an actual or anticipated loss.

How is Kleptomania Diagnosed?

Kleptomania is quite uncommon, and some kleptomaniacs may never seek medical attention. In some cases, they are jailed after stealing, and so kleptomania may never be diagnosed.

If you seek treatment at the right time, your doctor will perform a physiological and a psychological test to diagnose kleptomania. A physical test is performed to determine any physical factors or medical conditions that might have triggered the disorder. A psychological test is done to evaluate your brain chemistry.

Your doctor may ask you questions about the following:

  • Your impulses and your feelings about them.
  • Your reaction to a given list of hypothetical situations and if they might trigger kleptomania episodes.
  • Use the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association

What are the Treatments for Kleptomania?

Keeping fear and embarrassment aside, seeking treatment is very important as kleptomania is very hard to overcome by yourself. Without help, kleptomania will likely become a chronic (long-term) condition.

Kleptomania is usually treated with medication, psychotherapy, or both.

  • Medication

Depending on the severity, other disorders associated with kleptomania, and other factors, your doctor may prescribe the following medications:

  • Naltrexone: This is an opioid antagonist, an addiction medication that might help reduce the urges and feelings of pleasure associated with theft.
    • An antidepressant (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor).
    • Other medication depending on the nature of your condition.
  • Psychotherapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy, a form of psychotherapy, is usually used to help kleptomaniacs. It helps replace negative and unhealthy thoughts, behavior, and patterns with positive, healthy ones. Some of the techniques used in cognitive behavioral therapy are as follows:

  • Covert Sensitization: In this technique, you will picture yourself stealing and then face negative impacts and consequences like that of being arrested. This will eventually discourage you from stealing.
    • Aversion Therapy: In this technique, you will practice painful activities, such as holding your breath to your limits when you get an urge to steal. This is meant to divert you from your urges.
    • Systematic Desensitization: In this technique, you will practice relaxation techniques and visualize yourself controlling your desires to steal.

What are the risk factors for  kleptomania?

  • Family History: Having a close family member, like a sibling or parent, with kleptomania, OCD, or a substance use disorder, may heighten the chances of you developing kleptomania.
  • Gender and Age: While kleptomania can develop at any age and gender, it is more common in women and young adults.
  • Another Mental Illness: Kleptomaniacs often have other mental illnesses like anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, an eating disorder, personality disorder, or a substance use disorder.
  • Serotonin Imbalance: Having an imbalance in serotonin and other neurotransmitters may contribute to the development of kleptomania.
  • Trauma: Physical trauma to the head like concussions as well as psychological trauma as a child might play a role in the development of kleptomania over time.
Are There Any Complications Associated with Kleptomania?

If kleptomania goes unnoticed and is left untreated for too long, certain complications may arise. They are as follows:

  • Other compulsive disorders, like compulsive shopping and/or gambling
  • Alcoholism and substance abuse.
  • Severe emotional, work, family, financial and legal problems.
  • Depression and anxiety.
  • Bipolar disorder.
  • Personality and eating disorder.
  • Guilt and suicidal thoughts.


Unlike thieves, kleptomaniacs have a compulsive need to steal, and the stolen items are usually of no value to them. With this in mind, it is important to seek medical help without embarrassment and fear. Diagnosing and treating this disorder can help you control these urges and stay out of legal, financial, family, work, and emotional problems.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How Do You Avoid a Relapse?

Relapses are extremely common in addiction and mental health disorders. Try your best to stick to the treatment plan. If you are unable to resist stealing or if you think you require help, reach out to your doctor, a trusted person, or a support group.

How Do You Prepare for Your Appointment?

Before your appointment, make a list of the following:

  • Your signs and the ways they have been affecting you.
  • Personal information, especially traumatic incidents, a dysfunctional environment, and other causes of emotional and mental stress you may have experienced in the past.
  • Your medical information, including other mental health and physical conditions with which you have been diagnosed.
  • The medications administered to you and the corresponding dosages.

How Can I Prevent Kleptomania?

As kleptomania originates from unbalanced brain chemistry, and the root cause is unknown, you may not be able to prevent it. However, with early recognition, diagnosis, and treatment, you can prevent the condition from worsening and causing severe problems.

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