Kleptomania – Prevalence, Treatment and Prevention


Kleptomania is a complex impulse control disorder. It is an inability to resist the urge of stealing. It is characterized by problems with emotional or behavioral self-control. People with impulse control disorder have difficulty in resisting the temptation to steal things which are generally not required or have a very less value. It is a psychological condition and it can be treated with medications or psychotherapy. Many people live in secret shame due to fear from mental health treatment.

The urge to steal may occur with greater or lesser intensities over the course of time. They never use the stolen items; sometimes they donate or return them to the same place. People with kleptomania may have some other coexisting mental disorders such as social phobia, major depression, panic attacks, anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, substance abuse, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. The episodes of kleptomania occur spontaneously. It does not happen with planning and with help from another person. They steal from public places, such as stores and supermarkets or at friend’s parties. Kleptomania is more common in females than males.

Types of kleptomania

It is a condition where people have a strong urge to steal things. While there aren’t specific types of kleptomania, it can show up in different ways:

  1. Impulsive kleptomania: People with this type feel sudden urges to steal without planning it beforehand. They might steal things they don’t need or want, but it gives them a temporary feeling of relief or satisfaction.
  2. Covert kleptomania: Some individuals try to hide their stealing behavior. They might steal in crowded places or choose items that are easy to conceal, so they’re less likely to get caught.
  3. Overt kleptomania: On the other hand, some people with kleptomania steal openly without trying to hide it. This can lead to more immediate consequences, like legal trouble or social judgment.
  4. Sporadic kleptomania: Kleptomania episodes are usually sporadic, meaning they happen from time to time. Some individuals may go long periods without stealing, while others might have more frequent episodes.
  5. Chronic kleptomania: For a few individuals, it becomes a long-term problem. They steal more often and have difficulty controlling their urges consistently.

Remember, it is a mental health disorder and differs from regular theft or shoplifting. It’s often connected to underlying emotional or psychological issues like anxiety, depression, or impulse control problems.


Just how common it is? It is thought to be relatively rare. Estimates place the lifetime prevalence at somewhere between 0.3 to 0.6 of the population, although it has also been suggested that the real number may be higher. The exact prevalence of kleptomania is not known but it is estimated to impact approximately 1.2 million U.S. adults, or 6 out of every 1000 adults. It is estimated that kleptomania accounts for 5 percent of all shoplifting, translating to an annual economic loss of around $500 million.

Because people may feel embarrassed or ashamed of their condition, the disorder is thought to be underreported. National data assessing the prevalence in the general population does not exist, but numbers pulled from clinical samples suggest that kleptomania may be much more common than previously believed. For example, one study of clinical patients found that nearly 3.4-28 percent reported current symptoms consistent with kleptomania.

Kleptomania Pathophysiology

The exact pathophysiology is not fully understood, but research suggests that it involves a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors. Neurobiological studies have implicated abnormalities in the brain’s reward and impulse control systems, including dysregulation of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitter imbalances may contribute to the heightened urge to steal and the temporary relief or gratification experienced during and after stealing episodes.

Psychological factors such as emotional distress, feelings of tension or arousal, and a lack of control over impulses are also thought to play a role. Additionally, environmental factors such as a history of trauma or exposure to dysfunctional family dynamics may contribute to the development and maintenance of kleptomania. Further research is needed to fully elucidate the complex pathophysiology underlying kleptomania.

Symptoms of kleptomania

Here are some symptoms:

  • Recurrent failure to resist impulses to steal objects
  • Stealing is not for personal use or monetary value of the objects
  • Stealing is not for expressing anger or vengeance
  • Stealing cannot be explained by other disorders (e.g., conduct disorder, antisocial personality disorder, major depressive disorder)
  • Feel a sense of pleasure, gratification, or relief at the time of committing the theft

What are the Causes of Kleptomania?

The cause 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.

Risk factors of Kleptomania

Factors that put people at risk of kleptomania include gender, family history and the diagnosis of other mental illnesses.


In most clinical samples, two-thirds of kleptomania patients are women. Thus, being female may increase one’s chances of kleptomania. Unfortunately, mental health professionals have yet to identify why this is the case.

Family History

A person may be more susceptible to kleptomania if they have first-degree relatives with mental illnesses. Particularly, obsessive-compulsive disorders and impulse-control disorders (like substance use disorder) in relatives are linked to kleptomania.

Other Mental Illnesses

Kleptomania is often comorbid with other mental disorders such as Depression, Bipolar Disorder, OCD or impulse control disorders. Hence, individuals with these disorders may also develop kleptomania.

Complications of kleptomania

Left untreated, kleptomania can result in severe emotional, family, work, legal and financial problems. For example, you know stealing is wrong but you feel powerless to resist the impulse. As a result, you may be filled with guilt, shame, self-loathing and humiliation. And you may be arrested for stealing. You may otherwise lead a law-abiding life and be confused and upset by your compulsive stealing.

Other complications and conditions associated with kleptomania may include:

  • Other impulse-control disorders, such as compulsive gambling or shopping
  • Alcohol or other substance misuse
  • Personality disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors


Diagnosing kleptomania involves a thorough assessment conducted by a mental health professional. Here are the steps typically involved in diagnosing kleptomania:

Seek professional help: Reach out to a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist.

Comprehensive evaluation: The mental health professional will conduct interviews and assessments to gather information about your symptoms, behaviors, and personal history.

Diagnostic criteria: The professional will refer to the DSM-5, which outlines the criteria for kleptomania. These criteria include recurrent thefts without personal gain, a sense of tension before stealing, and a feeling of relief during or after the theft.

Rule out other causes: The professional will consider other factors that may contribute to the stealing behavior, such as substance abuse or underlying medical conditions.

Duration and impact: Kleptomania is typically diagnosed if the stealing episodes have been happening for at least six months and if they cause significant distress or impairment in important areas of life.

Collaboration and additional information: The professional may consult with other healthcare providers to gather more information if needed.

Remember, it is important to consult with a mental health professional for an accurate diagnosis of kleptomania.


The treatment of kleptomania typically involves a combination of therapeutic approaches and, in some cases, medication. Here are common treatment options for kleptomania:

Psychotherapy/Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Psychotherapy, particularly CBT, is often recommended for treating kleptomania. It helps individuals identify and manage the underlying emotions, triggers, and thought patterns associated with their stealing behavior. CBT aims to develop healthier coping strategies and improve impulse control.

Behavior modification techniques

Therapists may use techniques like aversion therapy, where individuals associate negative consequences with stealing behavior, or systematic desensitization, which gradually exposes individuals to situations that trigger their urge to steal.

Group therapy or support groups

Joining support groups or group therapy sessions can provide a supportive environment where individuals can share experiences, learn from others, and receive encouragement and guidance in managing their kleptomania.


In some cases, medications may be prescribed to help manage the symptoms of kleptomania. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which are commonly used to treat depression and anxiety, have shown some effectiveness in reducing the urges and symptoms associated with kleptomania.

Co-occurring disorder treatment

If individuals with kleptomania have co-occurring conditions like anxiety, depression, or substance abuse issues, it’s important to address these conditions as part of the treatment plan. Treating underlying mental health issues can help reduce the severity of kleptomania symptoms.

Self-help strategies

Alongside professional treatment, individuals can adopt self-help strategies such as developing healthy coping mechanisms, practicing stress management techniques, avoiding situations that trigger the urge to steal, and seeking social support from trusted friends or family members.

It’s essential to consult with a mental health professional to determine the most suitable treatment approach for kleptomania. Treatment plans may vary depending on individual circumstances, and a personalized approach is often the most effective.


Here are some points on how to prevent kleptomania:

  1. Seek early help if you struggle with impulsive behavior or impulse control issues.
  2. Treat and manage underlying mental health conditions like anxiety or depression.
  3. Learn and practice techniques to improve impulse control, such as deep breathing or mindfulness.
  4. Identify triggers that may lead to stealing urges and develop alternative coping strategies.
  5. Build a support network of understanding family and friends who can provide guidance and encouragement.
  6. Avoid high-risk environments or situations that may increase the temptation to steal.
  7. Take care of your physical and emotional well-being through proper sleep, nutrition, exercise, and self-care activities.

While these steps can help manage impulses and reduce the risk of engaging in stealing behaviors,

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