Kleptomania is a rare mental health disorder in which people are unable to resist the urge to steal things. They may shoplift things they have no use for, do not need, or could afford to buy.
When a person has kleptomania, the temptation to steal can be so strong that it is difficult to resist. Kleptomaniacs often feel an intense thrill from stealing and may experience feelings of guilt or humiliation after committing theft.
Doctors do not know the specific cause of kleptomania but believe it is related to biochemical and neurological abnormalities in the brain.
Kleptomania can lead to serious legal consequences and psychological and emotional distress. Therefore, anyone exhibiting signs of kleptomania must seek health from a qualified medical professional.
This article discusses kleptomania, its causes, treatment, and management. It also outlines how an individual can find help.
If someone is living with kleptomania, they have an overwhelming compulsion to steal things, even if they have no use or need for the items. Unlike criminal theft, people with kleptomania often do not need or value the items they steal and may discard or even return the goods.
Although an individual may find the action of stealing thrilling at the time, they are frequently overwhelmed with feelings of shame and guilt. As a result, they may go to great lengths to hide their disorder from friends and family.
Kleptomania is an officially recognized mental health disorder. However, it is rare and occurs in just 0.3%–0.6% of the population.
Kleptomania is a type of impulse control disorder. People with these conditions are unable to resist impulses, temptations, or desires to perform an act that may be harmful to other people.
Other impulse control disorders
- oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
- intermittent explosive disorder (IED)
- conduct disorder (CD)
Impulse control disorders frequently affect males more often than females. However, kleptomania occurs three times more often in females. People living with kleptomania may also have other mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, or substance use disorder.
Neurotransmitters are chemicals that allow communication between different areas of the brain. If they are unbalanced, the brain may not respond to urges as it should.
Stress contributes to loss of impulse control, and even if it does not directly cause kleptomania, it could worsen the condition.
Genetics may also play a role. If someone has a family member with kleptomania, they have a greater chance of developing the same disorder.
CBT may involve:
- learning how to control urges
- developing healthy coping mechanisms
- identifying and avoiding triggers
- managing stress
- addressing any underlying psychological issues
Doctors may also recommend medication to help someone manage kleptomania. These include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) that work by increasing the level of serotonin in the brain.
Some common SSRIs include:
However, there have been cases of SSRIs inducing kleptomania in people with other mental health disorders.
Other medications that doctors may use to treat kleptomania include mood stabilizers and drugs that reduce urges in people with behavioral addictions.
Seeking help for addiction may seem daunting or even scary, but several organizations can provide support. If you believe that you or someone close to you is showing signs of addiction, you can contact the following organizations for immediate help and advice:
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): 800-662-4357 (TTY: 800-487-4889)
- 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline: 988
People with kleptomania often feel ashamed or embarrassed and may be reluctant to seek help. However, the sooner someone gets treatment, the better their chances of managing the condition.
Experts have linked kleptomania to several other mental health disorders and an
People can find help through the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The helpline number is 800-950-6264.
Unsteel is a nonprofit that provides help and support across the United States. People can attend support groups and find information and resources.
If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:
- Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
- Listen to the person without judgment.
- Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
- Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
- Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.
Kleptomania is a recognized mental health disorder. It causes people to feel an irresistible urge to steal things even if they do not need them. As the condition drives people to engage in illegal behavior, it can have far-reaching consequences and lead to problems at work, school, or home.
Doctors do not fully understand the causes of kleptomania but believe it to be a result of biochemical and neurological abnormalities in the brain. The neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine are likely involved.
Treatment for kleptomania typically involves a combination of psychotherapy and medication. CBT is one type of psychotherapy that is particularly useful for treating kleptomania. Medications to treat kleptomania may include SSRIs and mood stabilizers.
If someone displays signs of kleptomania, it is important to seek professional medical help as soon as possible. Kleptomania may have links to other mental health disorders and an increased risk of suicide.