Kleptomania: when an uncontrollable urge to steal takes hold of you


Kleptomania is the recurrent inability to resist the urge to steal things that are generally not really needed and that are generally of little value. It is a rare but serious mental health disorder that can cause a great deal of emotional pain to you and your loved ones if left untreated.

Kleptomania is a type of mental disorder impulse control. A disorder that is characterized by problems with emotional or behavioral self-control. If you have an impulse control disorder, you have difficulty resisting the temptation or the will to perform an act that is excessive or harmful to you or someone else.

Many people with kleptomania live a life of secret shame because they fear seeking treatment for mental health issues. Although there is no cure for kleptomania, medication or talk therapy (psychotherapy) can help end the compulsive stealing cycle.

Symptoms of kleptomania

Symptoms of kleptomania may include:

Inability to resist powerful urges to steal things you don’t need

Feeling of increased tension, anxiety or excitement before the flight

Feeling pleasure , relief or gratification from stealing

Feelings of guilt, remorse, self-loathing, shame or fear of being arrested after stealing

Return of the impulses and repetition of the cycle of kleptomania

Characteristics of kleptomania

The People with kleptomania typically exhibit these traits or characteristics:

Unlike typical shoplifters, people with kleptomania do not steal compulsively for personal gain, defiance, revenge or rebellion. They simply steal because the urge is so strong that they cannot resist it. Episodes of kleptomania usually occur spontaneously, usually without planning and without the help or cooperation of another person. Most people with kleptomania steal in public places, such as shops and supermarkets.

Some may steal from friends or acquaintances, for example at a party. Often the stolen items are of no value to the person with kleptomania, and the person can afford to buy them. Stolen items are usually set aside and will never be used. Items can also be donated, given to family or friends, or even secretly returned to where they were stolen from. The urge to fly can come and go or manifest itself with more or less intensity over time.

When to consult a doctor

If you cannot stop the shoplifting or theft, seek medical advice. Many people with kleptomania do not want to seek treatment for fear of being arrested or imprisoned. However, a mental health professional usually does not report your thefts to the authorities. Some people seek medical help because they are afraid of getting caught and having legal consequences. Or they have already been arrested and are legally obliged to seek treatment.

If a loved one has kleptomania

If you think that a close friend or family member has kleptomania, share your concerns with your loved one. Remember that kleptomania is a mental health issue, not a character flaw, so approach your loved one without blaming or accusing them.

Causes of kleptomania

The cause of kleptomania is not known. Several theories suggest that changes in the brain could be the cause of kleptomania. More research is needed to better understand these possible causes, but kleptomania may be linked to:

– Problems with a natural brain chemical (neurotransmitter) called serotonin. Serotonin helps regulate moods and emotions. Low levels of serotonin are common in people prone to impulsive behaviors.

– Addiction disorders. Stealing can cause the release of dopamine (another neurotransmitter). Dopamine causes pleasurable feelings, and some people crave that gratifying feeling all the time.

– The opioid system of the brain. Cravings are regulated by the opioid system of the brain. An imbalance of this system could make it more difficult to resist cravings.

Risk factors

Kleptomania is considered uncommon. However, some people with kleptomania may never seek treatment or simply be imprisoned after repeated thefts, so some cases of kleptomania may never be diagnosed. Kleptomania often begins in adolescence or early adulthood, but can also appear in adulthood or later. About two-thirds of people with known kleptomania are women.

Risk factors for kleptomania may include

Family history

Having a first-degree relative, such as a parent, sibling, with kleptomania, obsessive-compulsive disorder or substance use disorder may increase the risk of kleptomania.

Having another mental illness

People with kleptomania often suffer from another mental illness. Such as bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, eating disorder, substance use disorder, or personality disorder.

Complications of kleptomania

If left untreated, kleptomania can lead to serious emotional, family, professional, legal and financial problems. For example, you know stealing is wrong, but you feel powerless to resist the impulse. So you may be burdened with guilt, shame, self-loathing and humiliation. And you can be arrested for theft.

Since the cause of kleptomania is not clear, it is not yet known how to prevent it with certainty. Getting treatment early on in compulsive theft can help prevent kleptomania from getting worse. And thus avoid some of its negative consequences.


A form of psychotherapy called cognitive behavioral therapy helps you identify beliefs and behaviors unhealthy and negative beliefs and replacing them with healthy and positive beliefs and behaviors.

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