What is Kleptomania?

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Kleptomania and its symptoms, diagnosis and treatment.

According to Cambridge Dictionaries Online, Kleptomania is a very strong and uncontrollable wish to steal, especially without any need or purpose,usually considered to be a type of mental illness. Kleptomania is a type of impulse control disorder. This disorder is seen more in females than males. About 5 to 10 percent of people who have a psychological diagnosis have one for Kleptomania. The onset of this disorder usually occurs during the teenage years to the early 20s.

Kleptomaniacs do not steal because they need items, or because they want to sell the items. They usually steal small items such as; clothing, shampoos, toothpaste, makeup, candy and other small items. They do not go into stores with the intention to steal, but do get the urge to steal while they are in the store. Taking the item relieves the tensions that build up in the individual before stealing the item. The individual sometimes gives the items to friends, and in some cases, the Kleptomaniac hoards the items she steals. It is common for an individual with Kleptomania to go through periods of time when they steal many items, and then periods of remission, where they steal nothing.

Symptoms and Diagnostic Criteria

Symptoms of Kleptomania include; and uncontrollable urge to steal, tensions that build up before and item is stolen and  pleasure while stealing. When the act of stealing the item is done, the Kleptomaniac feels guilty for what they have done.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders lists 6 criteria that they follow when diagnosing individuals with kleptomania. The 5 criteria used for diagnosing this disorder are:

  1. The individual must repeatedly fail to resist the urge to steal objects that are not needed or money or personal use.
  2. The individual must experience an increases sense of tension immediately before committing the act.
  3. The individual must experience pleasure or gratification while committing the act.
  4. The theft is not done to express anger or vengeance, and is not done in response to delusions or hallucinations.
  5. Conduct Disorder, Manic Episode and Antisocial Personality have been ruled out.

Causes of Kleptomania

There have not been a lot of studies done concerning the causes of Kleptomania, however, the research that has been done, does suggest a few possible causes. Kleptomania could be caused by problems with the neurotransmitter, serotonin, which helps the brain regulate emotions and moods. Other possible causes include; head trauma and a decrease in the white matter in the frontal lobe of the brain.

Treatment of Kleptomania

Medications can be used to treat Kleptomania. People who have this disorder are sometimes prescribed antidepressants, mood stabilizers, benzodiazepines, anti seizure medications and addiction drugs. Medications do not always work for this disorder and other treatment may be necessary.

Psychotherapy is also used to treat this disorder. Cognitive behavioral therapy is usually the one used. The therapist may use convert sensitization, which consists of having the individual visualize herself stealing, getting caught and dealing with the consequences of the act. Aversion therapy may also be used. During this type of therapy the individual is giving something unpleasant to do when she feels the urge to steal. This could be holding ones breath or pinching oneself. Eventually the individual will associate the unpleasant event with the act of stealing and the individual should stop stealing. Another type of CBT that may be used is called Systemic desensitization, which will teach the individual relaxation techniques that she will use when she starts to feel the tension build up before committing the shoplifting act.


Mayoclinic.com: Kleptomania. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/kleptomania/DS01034. Accessed October 17,2010

Discovery Health: How Kleptpmania Works. http://health.howstuffworks.com/mental-health/mental-disorders/kleptomania.htm. Accessed October 17,2010

Cambridge Dictionaries Online: Kleptomania. http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/kleptomania. Accessed October 17,2010

American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text rev.). Washington, DC: Author.


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Sheila Buck

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