Kleptomania: Causes, Risk Factors, Symptoms, Treatment


Kleptomania is a complex disorder characterized by repeated, uncontrollable impulses to steal. The items stolen are not acquired for personal use or financial gain, but rather as a response to an irresistible urge. Affecting both men and women, though it is reported more frequently among females, kleptomania is categorized as a disruptive, impulse-control, and conduct disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The causes of kleptomania are not fully understood but are believed to be multifactorial, involving neurobiological, genetic, and environmental components. The disorder often coexists with mood disorders, anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders, and other impulse-control disorders. Kleptomania is relatively rare, though the exact prevalence is difficult to determine due to underreporting and the disorder being frequently misdiagnosed or unrecognized. Treatment options for kleptomania typically include cognitive-behavioral therapy, which focuses on identifying unhealthy, negative thoughts and behaviours and replacing them with positive ones, and pharmacotherapy, particularly with SSRIs or other medications that affect serotonin levels.

Risk Factors of Kleptomania

If you suspect you or someone else is experiencing Kleptomania, it is crucial to seek immediate medical attention by calling emergency services or consult with a Psychologist.




The specific causes of kleptomania remain somewhat of a mystery, but several theories and findings contribute to our current understanding: 1. Neurobiological Factors: Research has indicated that kleptomania may be associated with abnormalities in brain chemistry, particularly with the neurotransmitter serotonin, which plays a role in regulating moods and emotions. Anomalies in the opioid system have also been implicated, which might explain the addictive quality of the compulsive behaviour. 2. Genetic Predisposition: There is evidence to suggest a hereditary component to kleptomania. Individuals with a family history of substance abuse, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or other impulse control disorders may have a higher risk of developing kleptomania. 3. Psychological Factors: Certain psychological profiles, such as having low self-esteem, seeking thrills, or an inability to manage stress, may contribute to the development of kleptomania. Sometimes, the act of stealing is a manifestation of an unmet need or a way to exert control. 4. Environmental Influences: Stressful life events or traumas can trigger the onset of kleptomania in those who are already vulnerable due to genetic or neurobiological factors.

Risk Factors

Several risk factors have been associated with an increased likelihood of developing kleptomania: 1. Family History: A family history of kleptomania or other mental health disorders increases the likelihood of the onset of the disorder. 2. Co-occurring Mental Health Disorders: Kleptomania often occurs alongside other mental health conditions, such as anxiety disorders, eating disorders, or personality disorders. 3. Stress and Trauma: Life stresses and traumatic events may act as catalysts for the emergence of kleptomaniac behaviour in susceptible individuals. 4. Gender: Although kleptomania can affect individuals of any gender, it has been reported more frequently among females in clinical settings. 5. Age: Kleptomania typically develops during adolescence or young adulthood but can occur at any age. Risk of Complications: Left unaddressed, kleptomania can lead to severe personal, professional, and legal consequences. Individuals may face arrest, incarceration, and damage to their personal relationships. The guilt and shame associated with the disorder can also lead to psychological distress and can exacerbate co-occurring mental health conditions.


The primary symptom of kleptomania is the recurrent failure to resist urges to steal items that one generally doesn't need, either for personal use or for monetary value. The symptoms are marked by several characteristic features: 1. Recurrent Stealing: The individual repeatedly gives in to the urge to steal objects not needed for personal use or monetary value. 2. Rising Tension: Before the act of stealing, the person typically experiences tension, anxiety, or arousal. 3. Gratification: During the theft, the individual may feel pleasure, relief, or gratification. 4. Guilt or Shame: After the theft, the person may experience guilt, remorse, self-loathing, or fear of arrest, but these feelings do not prevent future episodes. 5. Lack of Preplanning: The theft is not planned and does not involve accomplices or a vendetta. 6. Not Caused by Another Disorder: The behaviour is not due to another mental disorder, like a manic episode, and is not attributable to antisocial personality disorder.

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1. Clinical Interview: A mental health professional will conduct a detailed interview to understand the individual's behaviour, symptoms, and history. They will try to establish the pattern of stealing and ascertain that the behaviour is not better explained by another mental disorder, conduct disorder, a manic episode, or antisocial personality disorder. 2. Psychological Evaluation: This may include questionnaires or self-assessment tools that help identify the presence of kleptomania symptoms and distinguish them from other compulsive behaviours. 3. Review of Medical and Legal History: Knowledge of any past medical issues or a history of legal troubles can provide context for the kleptomania diagnosis. 4. DSM-5 Criteria: A psychiatrist or psychologist will refer to the criteria for kleptomania listed in the DSM-5, ensuring the symptoms match the profile of the disorder. No specific laboratory tests or biological markers can diagnose kleptomania. The process is based on the individual's self-reported experiences and observed behaviour.


Managing kleptomania typically involves a combination of therapies: 1. Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT): CBT is effective in helping individuals with kleptomania understand their behaviour and learn to manage the impulses. Techniques may include systematic desensitization to control urges, and cognitive restructuring to challenge and change unhealthy thoughts. 2. Medications: There is no medication specifically approved for kleptomania, but certain drugs, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), have been used to treat the condition. Other medications that might be prescribed include mood stabilizers, anti-seizure medications, or anti-addiction medications like naltrexone. 3. Psychotherapy: Apart from CBT, other forms of psychotherapy, such as psychodynamic therapy, may help address underlying emotional issues that may be contributing to kleptomaniac behaviour. 4. Group Therapy and Support Groups: Sharing experiences with others facing similar challenges can be beneficial. It can provide a support network and help the person feel less isolated. 5. Family Therapy: Involving family members can help them understand the disorder and provide support for the individual affected. It's crucial to tailor the treatment plan to the individual's specific needs and the presence of any co-occurring mental health conditions. Ongoing treatment is often necessary to help prevent a relapse of kleptomania symptoms.

Preventive Measures

The prevention of kleptomania can be challenging, primarily because its exact causes are not well understood. However, there are general strategies that can help mitigate the risk or lessen the severity of symptoms: 1. Early Intervention: Seeking help at the first sign of compulsive stealing behaviour can be crucial. Early intervention may prevent the problem from escalating. 2. Stress Management: Since stress can be a trigger for kleptomaniac episodes, learning stress-reduction techniques such as meditation, exercise, or yoga may help reduce the frequency and intensity of urges to steal. 3. Mental Health Awareness: Being aware of the signs and symptoms of kleptomania can help in recognizing it early in oneself or others, leading to earlier treatment. 4. Regular Counselling: For those with other mental health disorders or a family history of kleptomania, regular sessions with a mental health professional can provide monitoring and early intervention if symptoms develop. 5. Avoidance of Triggers: Identifying and avoiding situations or emotional states that trigger kleptomaniac impulses can be an effective preventive measure. 6. Education: Educating oneself and others about kleptomania can reduce stigma and encourage individuals to seek help.

Do's & Don’t's

Do's Don't
Seek professional help from a therapist or psychiatrist specializing in impulse control disorders. Ignore or trivialize the condition.
Encourage open communication and a supportive environment for the individual struggling with kleptomania. Judge or shame the person for their behavior.
Establish healthy coping mechanisms and stress-relief strategies to manage triggers that may lead to stealing. Enable or cover up the theft behavior.
Encourage the individual to participate in support groups or therapy sessions focused on managing impulse control. Punish or penalize the person without understanding the underlying condition.
Create a structured routine or schedule to reduce idle time and minimize opportunities for impulsive stealing. Enable situations where the person may be tempted to steal.
Implement measures to secure valuables and minimize access to items that could trigger stealing impulses. Enable behaviors that involve justifying or rationalizing stealing.
Support the individual in exploring alternative hobbies or activities that provide a sense of fulfillment without the need to steal. Engage in confrontational or aggressive behavior when addressing instances of stealing.

If you suspect you or someone else is experiencing Kleptomania, it is crucial to seek immediate medical attention by calling emergency services or consult with a Psychologist.

Frequently Asked Questions
Kleptomania is recognized as a mental health disorder characterized by an uncontrollable impulse to steal. It's a complex condition that can result in criminal activity, but the underlying cause is psychological, not criminal intent.
There is no known cure for kleptomania, but it can be effectively managed with therapy and medications. Some individuals may experience periods without symptoms, while others may struggle with the disorder long-term.
The primary difference lies in the intent. Shoplifting is often a deliberate act committed with the intention to possess or profit from the stolen item. Kleptomania, on the other hand, is an uncontrollable impulse to steal for reasons not related to personal use or financial gain.
Yes, kleptomania is often associated with mood disorders, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, substance abuse, and other impulse control disorders.
Kleptomania is considered a rare disorder, though the exact prevalence is unknown due to underreporting.
While kleptomania typically begins in late adolescence to young adulthood, it can be diagnosed in children. However, it's important to differentiate between normal childhood behaviour and a disorder.
Encourage them to seek help from a mental health professional and offer your support through their treatment process.
No medications are specifically approved for kleptomania, but certain drugs such as SSRIs, mood stabilizers, and anti-seizure medications may be prescribed off-label to help control the urges associated with kleptomania.
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