Kleptomania is the inability to resist impulses to steal. The things that are stolen are not needed for personal use. They are also not taken for their monetary value. This is a rare condition.
The exact cause of kleptomania is not known. Chemical imbalances in the brain may play a role.
Kleptomania often occurs with other psychological disorders. These include:
- Substance abuse, such as alcoholism and drug abuse
- Eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia
- Other impulse control disorders
Other risk factors include:
- Having a family history of the condition
- Having a brain injury
Kleptomania appears to be more common in females than in males. There are no other known risk factors.
Symptoms of kleptomania include all of the following:
- A repeated inability to resist impulses to steal things that are not of personal value
- A feeling of relief, joy, and/or pleasure when stealing things
- Feeling of guilt or remorse after the event
- Thefts that are not committed out of anger or revenge
- Lack of a better explanation for the theft, such as another psychological disorder
Kleptomania is different from shoplifting or ordinary theft, which is:
- Motivated by the stolen item's usefulness or monetary value
- The result of a dare, an act of rebellion, or a rite of passage
A psychiatrist or psychologist will diagnose kleptomania when:
- All of the symptoms of kleptomania are present
- There is no other, better explanation for repeated thefts
- Kleptomania is not an excuse for shoplifting or ordinary theft
Treatment may involve treating an underlying disease. Other treatments include:
Counseling or Therapy
Counseling or therapy may be in a group or one-to-one setting. It is usually aimed at dealing with underlying psychological problems that may be contributing to kleptomania. It may also include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Behavior modification therapy
- Family therapy
Stress reduction techniques, including medication, yoga, or tai chi, may also be taught in therapy.
There are no guidelines for preventing kleptomania. The exact cause is not known.
American Psychiatric Association
Mental Health America
Canadian Psychiatric Association
Canadian Psychological Association
Aboujaoude E, Gamel N, Koran L. Overview of kleptomania and phenomenological description of 40 patients. Prim Care Companion. J Clin Psychiatry. 2004;6(6):244-247.
The Columbia Encyclopedia. 6th ed. New York, NY: Columbia University Press; 2001.
Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 4th ed. American Psychiatric Association; 1994.
Kuzma JM, Black DW. Compulsive disorders. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2004 Feb;6(1):58-65.
Last reviewed August 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.