Kleptomania: Causes, Risk Factors, Symptoms, Treatment


Kleptomania is a mental health disorder characterized by a recurrent inability to resist urges to steal items that are typically of little value and not needed for personal use or monetary gain. People with kleptomania often experience tension before committing the theft and a sense of relief or gratification afterward. The act of stealing is not premeditated and is usually done impulsively, without planning or consideration of consequences. Despite the lack of necessity or financial motive, individuals with kleptomania may feel ashamed, guilty, or anxious about their behavior. Treatment may involve psychotherapy, particularly cognitive-behavioral approaches, and sometimes medication to manage symptoms.

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.


Biological Factors:

  • Genetic predisposition or family history of impulsive disorders.
  • Neurochemical imbalances, particularly involving serotonin.

Psychological Factors:

  • Coping mechanism for stress or anxiety.
  • Desire for thrill or excitement from stealing.

Environmental Factors:

  • Early life experiences of loss or trauma.
  • Influence of peers or social norms that condone theft.

Co-occurring Disorders:

  • Often linked with other mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety disorders, or substance abuse.

Impulse Control Issues:

  • Difficulty controlling impulses and urges.
  • Lack of awareness or concern about consequences of stealing.

Behavioral Reinforcement:

  • Positive reinforcement from successful thefts.
  • Relief from tension or negative emotions after stealing.

Risk Factors

  • Genetics: Family history of kleptomania or other impulse control disorders.
  • Neurobiological factors: Imbalances in neurotransmitters such as serotonin or dopamine.
  • Psychological factors: Co-occurring disorders like anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
  • Trauma or stress: Experiences of trauma or high levels of stress.
  • Personality traits: Traits such as impulsivity or sensation-seeking behavior.
  • Social and environmental factors: Upbringing in environments where stealing is more normalized or where there is less social reinforcement against stealing.
  • Substance use: Abuse of substances like alcohol or drugs, which can impair judgment and increase impulsivity.
  • Cognitive factors: Distorted thinking patterns related to the justification or rationalization of stealing behavior.
  • Gender: Although kleptomania can affect both genders, it appears more prevalent in females.
  • Medical conditions: Some medical conditions or injuries affecting the brain may increase the risk.


  • Recurrent urges: Intense impulses to steal items that aren't needed for personal use or monetary gain.
  • Tension before theft: Feeling increasingly anxious or aroused before committing theft.
  • Sense of relief: Temporary gratification or pleasure after stealing.
  • Guilt and remorse: Often experienced immediately or shortly after the theft.
  • Repetition: The behavior is recurring and difficult to control, despite potential consequences.
  • Stealing unneeded items: Taking items that hold little to no value or that the person could easily afford.
  • Secrecy: Attempting to conceal or hide the stolen items or the act of stealing.
  • Social and legal implications: Fear of embarrassment, legal consequences, or relationship strain due to the behavior.
  • No alternative motives: The thefts are not motivated by anger, revenge, or delusions.

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Diagnostic Criteria: Symptoms must meet criteria outlined in the DSM-5, including recurrent failure to resist impulses to steal items that are not needed for personal use or monetary value.
Behavior Patterns: Evidence of repetitive theft, often items of trivial value, despite potential consequences.
Psychological Evaluation: Assessment of underlying psychological factors contributing to the behavior, such as stress, anxiety, or mood disorders.
Differential Diagnosis: Exclusion of other conditions that may present with similar symptoms (e.g., conduct disorder, antisocial personality disorder).
History and Context: Gathering information about the onset, frequency, and circumstances of stealing episodes.
Medical and Substance Screening: Rule out medical conditions or substance use that could mimic or exacerbate symptoms.
Collateral Information: Input from family members or close contacts to corroborate the behavior and its impact.
Severity Assessment: Determination of how the behavior affects daily functioning and relationships.
Cultural and Contextual Considerations: Understanding how cultural norms and individual circumstances influence the behavior.
Treatment Planning: Development of a treatment plan based on the assessment findings, which may include psychotherapy, medication, or both, tailored to the individual's needs.


Psychotherapy: Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to identify and modify dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors.

Medications: Antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) to help reduce impulsivity and control urges.

Support groups: Participation in groups like Kleptomaniacs Anonymous or other support networks to share experiences and coping strategies.

Behavioral interventions: Developing alternative coping mechanisms and strategies to manage urges.

Family therapy: Involving family members to understand and support the individual in managing their condition.

Dual diagnosis treatment: Addressing any co-occurring mental health disorders that may contribute to kleptomania.

Lifestyle changes: Stress management techniques, improving organizational skills, and addressing financial issues related to the consequences of stealing.

Preventive Measures

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Engage in therapy to identify and modify the thought patterns and behaviors associated with kleptomania.

Medication: Consult with a psychiatrist for medications that may help control impulses and manage underlying issues like anxiety or depression.

Support Groups: Participate in support groups or group therapy sessions to share experiences and receive encouragement from others facing similar challenges.

Stress Management: Learn and practice stress-reduction techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, or yoga to alleviate triggers for impulsive behaviors.

Financial Planning: Develop a budget and financial plan to avoid financial stressors that may contribute to impulsive stealing.

Environment Modification: Remove or avoid situations where stealing might occur, such as staying away from stores or situations that trigger the urge.

Educational Resources: Educate oneself and loved ones about kleptomania to increase awareness and understanding of the disorder.

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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