Kleptomania – A Mysterious Mental Disorder

Kleptomania – A Mysterious Mental Disorder
Kleptomania – A Mysterious Mental Disorder

Kleptomania is a disorder, which is characterized by the inability to suppress the urges to steal. Stolen items, as a rule, are not valuable. Such a desire manifests itself as a compulsive (inexplicable, spontaneous) impulse, which can not be controlled. A person suffering from kleptomania has to steal, although he is aware that it is wrong. Kleptomania is considered a mental illness but at the same time, kleptomaniac actions are antisocial. Such a person steals, then repents, even throws these items. After a while, he steals again.

Everyone steals: women, men, children, teenagers, adults, rich and poor but researches show that young people tend to develop kleptomania at the age under 30.

Basically, kleptomania affects those who have previously suffered from other mental disorders. Genetic predisposition plays an important role. Eating disorders or sexual problems may lead to the development of kleptomania.

Some experts claim that the desire to steal is similar to drug addiction or gambling addiction and sometimes it is accompanied by these addictions.

kleptomaniaStressful situations and failures may trigger kleptomania. Theft is often interpreted by the patient as a reward for failure, or revenge, but it may occur because of delusions or hallucinations that are symptoms of other mental disorders (schizophrenia).

While stealing, a kleptomaniac experiences anxiety, adrenaline increases in the blood, the danger becomes very tempting. Then, if stealing is completed successfully, a feeling of bliss and relaxation occur, even later – remorse and guilt. In spite of the awareness of crime and discomfort, a kleptomaniac prefers pleasant emotions and feelings after stealing. Remorse does not cause aversion and he starts stealing more often.

Kleptomania is an obsessive-compulsive disorder. It is similar to such disorders as depression, eating disorders (bulimia), social phobias, anxiety disorders. There is a similarity to drug addiction, in both cases, it is hard to suppress desire.

Kleptomania was first recognized as a mental disorder in the ’60s in the United States (the case of Douglas Jones, the existence of the illness was proved). Today people who suffer from kleptomania are protected by law. Theft committed by a kleptomaniac is not called a crime and refers to a mental disorder. Of course, it is not sufficient to avoid responsibility for theft (only 5% of shoplifting are committed by people with kleptomania). In the case of suspicion, psychiatric examination is carried out, which will determine the presence of the disease. If a person is diagnosed with kleptomania, treatment will be started since this disorder leads to a number of negative consequences.

What causes kleptomania?

brain structuresThe exact reason of the disease is unknown. There are several theories, which suggest that changes occur in brain structures. Kleptomania may be associated with neurotransmitter’s (serotonin) function. Serotonin helps to regulate mood and emotions. The low level of serotonin is common among people who are prone to uncontrolled behavior. While stealing the release of dopamine (another neurotransmitter)takes place. Dopamine produces a pleasant feeling and people with kleptomania look for this feeling in order to experience it again.

Other researchers find out that a person may develop kleptomania after an unpleasant event with brain injury.

There is still a need for more detail studies of this disease in order to understand better and determine the possible causes of kleptomania.

Symptoms of kleptomania

Kleptomania symptoms include:

  • kleptomania symptomsSevere, uncontrollable urges to steal items.
  • The feeling of tension, which goes away after stealing.
  • The feeling of guilt or shame, self-blame.
  • Episodes occur spontaneously, without planning. At the party or in public places.
  • Sometimes, the stolen items are thrown away since they are unnecessary or a person returns them to the owner as they have no value.

It is more dangerous than one may think

We all know from childhood that stealing is wrong. People with kleptomania feel powerless and can not stop. Feelings of guilt, shame, humiliation and self-loathing gradually destroy the psyche. The person maintains immoral life and he is constantly puzzled: steal or not to steal.

Without treatment, kleptomania may lead to serious administrative, financial and emotional problems.

Complications of kleptomania:

  • Arrest
  • Imprisonment
  • Depression
  • Alcohol and drug addiction
  • Eating disorders
  • Anxiety
  • Gambling
  • Suicidal thoughts and attempts
  • Social isolation


kleptomania medicationFew people with kleptomania see doctors on their own. As a rule, kleptomania is found out when a person is caught for stealing. Many people live with shame and fear to seek professional help.

It is difficult to overcome kleptomania without additional help. Treatment of this disorder includes medication and psychotherapy. There is no standard treatment for this disorder, scientists are still trying to understand what helps it better. It is necessary to try several kinds of treatment in order to find an effective treatment.

Before starting treatment, it is necessary to assess a person’s physical and psychological condition. Physical examination will help determine the presence of changes in the brain structure or metabolic disorders. Laboratory methods, MRI, CT scan, blood test help to make the diagnosis. Psychological questionnaires give more precise results.

There is no particular type of drugs that can cure kleptomania. Only psychotherapy and medications increasing serotonin level are able to reduce or eliminate symptoms of the disease. Treatment is always complex and individual.

Medications that may be effective in treatment:

Antidepressants. There is a large number but selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most effective. Fluoxetine (Prozac) and Paroxetine (Paxil) are widely used in the treatment of kleptomania.

Mood stabilizers. They are designed to improve mood and they help to control the urge to steal. A stabilizer is called Lithium (Lithobid).

Drugs for treatment of addiction (opioids, alcohol). Naltrexone (Revia, Vivitrol), known as a synthetic opioid antagonist, blocks the part of the brain that is responsible for pleasure. This may reduce the urges associated with stealing and experiencing pleasure from it.

It is needed to try several different drugs or combinations of drugs in order to find the best one. It may take a few weeks before drugs give a positive result. A doctor can change meds or dose. Many side effects go away over time.


kleptomania therapyBehavioral therapy is the best way to treat kleptomania. In general, the patient will suppress unhealthy, negative thoughts and behavior and replace them with healthy and positive ones.

Cognitive therapy includes methods that are helpful  in overcoming the desire to steal. On a subconscious level, a person will associate stealing with something negative, not with pleasure.

Aversion therapy is another widely used method. There is a situation when a patient wants to steal something, in that moment, he holds his breath in order to experience discomfort and the lack of oxygen. The method is rather painful but due to regular exercise when the desire to steal something occurs, a person will experience only an unpleasant feeling.

Group psychotherapy – even if you can not find a group for kleptomania, you can achieve good results in the group for Alcoholics Anonymous or groups devoted to other addictions.


According to statistics, about 10% of people at least once steal something. In most cases, it was a random petty theft just because a person was curious. How to prevent from kleptomania, how to recognize the disease, since the cause of kleptomania is not clear, no one can say exactly how to prevent the appearance of this mysterious illness.

When you have the desire to steal something and can not control it in order to prevent a chronic condition that is difficult to overcome, there is only one method that can help – timely treatment.

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