Table of Contents

Definition of Kleptomania

Kleptomania is a mental health disorder characterized by an irresistible urge or impulse to steal items that are typically of little or no value and are often not needed for personal use. People with kleptomania may feel a sense of tension before committing the theft, followed by relief or gratification when stealing. However, this act of stealing is not motivated by personal gain or financial need but rather by the urge itself. After stealing, individuals with kleptomania might feel guilt, remorse, or shame about their actions.

It’s important to note that kleptomania is considered a rare condition and is classified as an impulse control disorder, not simply a behavior arising from criminal intent or a desire for the stolen items. Treatment for kleptomania typically involves therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or medication, to help manage and reduce the urges to steal.

Kleptomania 1

History of Kleptomania

The concept of kleptomania has been recognized for centuries, although it wasn’t formally categorized as a mental health disorder until relatively recently in the field of psychology.

  • The term “kleptomania” itself comes from the Greek words “kleptēs,” meaning “thief,” and “mania,” which translates to “madness” or “frenzy.” The condition was first formally identified and named in the 19th century as a specific mental health disorder characterized by the irresistible urge to steal items.
  • Throughout history, behaviors resembling kleptomania were observed and described in various cultures, often viewed as a moral or criminal issue rather than a psychological or psychiatric condition. Prior to its classification as a mental disorder, stealing behavior was commonly associated with criminal intent or simply labeled as theft.
  • It wasn’t until the late 19th century that kleptomania started to be recognized as a distinct psychiatric condition separate from general criminal behavior. Emil Kraepelin, a prominent German psychiatrist, contributed to the understanding of psychiatric disorders and included kleptomania as part of his studies.
  • As psychological research and understanding of mental health evolved, kleptomania became categorized as an impulse control disorder, characterized by the inability to resist impulses or urges, particularly the impulse to steal, even when there’s no personal need or motivation for the stolen items.

Today, kleptomania is acknowledged as a mental health condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association, where it falls under the category of “Disruptive, Impulse-Control, and Conduct Disorders.” This recognition has led to the development of various therapeutic approaches and treatments aimed at managing and addressing the symptoms associated with kleptomania.

DSM-5 Criteria of Kleptomania

In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), kleptomania is classified under the category of “Disruptive, Impulse-Control, and Conduct Disorders.” The following criteria are used for diagnosing kleptomania:

A. Recurrent failure to resist impulses to steal objects that are not needed for personal use or for their monetary value.

B. The individual experiences an increasing sense of tension immediately before committing the theft.

C. The theft is done impulsively.

D. The stealing is not conducted as an expression of anger or vengeance and is not in response to a delusion or hallucination.

E. After the theft, there might be feelings of pleasure, relief, or gratification.

F. The theft is not better explained by conduct disorder, a manic episode, or antisocial personality disorder.

G. The stealing cannot be attributed to another mental disorder, such as schizophrenia, where stealing is part of the symptoms.

It’s important to note that the diagnosis of kleptomania should be made by a qualified mental health professional, as it requires a comprehensive evaluation of the individual’s symptoms, behaviors, and their impact on daily life. Treatment for kleptomania often involves therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), and sometimes medication to help manage the impulses and address underlying issues contributing to the condition.

Etiology of Kleptomania

The precise cause or etiology of kleptomania is not fully understood, but several factors may contribute to the development of this impulse control disorder. These factors can be a combination of biological, psychological, and environmental elements. Here are some potential contributors to the development of kleptomania:

Biological factors:

There might be a genetic predisposition or a neurological basis for kleptomania. Some studies suggest that alterations in brain chemistry or abnormalities in areas of the brain related to impulse control and reward processing could play a role.

Psychological factors:

Underlying psychological issues or mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), may coexist or contribute to kleptomania. Individuals with kleptomania may experience feelings of tension or anxiety before committing theft and a sense of relief or gratification afterward, which could be linked to emotional or psychological factors.

Behavioral reinforcement:

Some theories suggest that the act of stealing may become reinforced by the relief or pleasure experienced after the theft, reinforcing the behavior and making it more likely to recur.

Environmental factors:

Certain environmental or situational triggers might contribute to the development or exacerbation of kleptomania. Stressful life events, trauma, or exposure to situations where stealing is normalized or condoned may play a role in the onset of kleptomania.

Co-occurring conditions:

Kleptomania might coexist with other mental health disorders or conditions, such as substance abuse, which can complicate the diagnosis and treatment.

Understanding the interplay of these factors is crucial in comprehending the etiology of kleptomania. However, further research is needed to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the precise causes and mechanisms underlying this disorder. Treatment often involves a multidisciplinary approach, including therapy, medication, and support aimed at addressing the underlying issues contributing to the impulse control difficulties in individuals with kleptomania.

Theories related to Kleptomania

Several theories attempt to explain the underlying causes and mechanisms behind kleptomania. These theories draw from various fields such as psychology, psychiatry, and neurology. Some prominent theories related to kleptomania include:

Biological and Neurobiological Theories:

These theories suggest that there might be underlying neurological or biological factors contributing to kleptomania. Alterations in brain chemistry, abnormalities in brain regions associated with impulse control and reward processing, or genetic predispositions could play a role. Research examining brain imaging and neurotransmitter activity aims to understand the neurobiological basis of kleptomania.

Impulse Control Dysfunction:

Kleptomania is often classified as an impulse control disorder. The theory suggests that individuals with kleptomania have difficulties resisting impulses, specifically the impulse to steal, despite negative consequences. This inability to control impulses might be related to underlying psychological or neurological factors.

Cognitive-Behavioral Theory:

According to this theory, kleptomania might be associated with cognitive distortions or faulty thinking patterns. Individuals with kleptomania might experience distorted beliefs or thoughts about stealing, rationalizing their behavior or feeling compelled to steal due to irrational beliefs.

Psychodynamic Theories:

These theories explore unconscious motivations behind kleptomania. They suggest that unresolved conflicts, unconscious desires, or past experiences might contribute to the development of kleptomania. For example, kleptomania might serve as a coping mechanism for underlying emotional distress or unmet psychological needs.

Reward and Reinforcement Theories:

Some theories propose that the act of stealing becomes reinforced by the sense of relief, gratification, or pleasure experienced after the theft. This reinforcement could contribute to the compulsive and repetitive nature of the behavior.

Stress and Coping Mechanism:

Stressful life events or situations might trigger or exacerbate kleptomania. Some individuals might engage in stealing as a way to cope with or alleviate stress, anxiety, or other negative emotions.\

These theories are not mutually exclusive and may intersect or complement each other in explaining the complexities of kleptomania. Understanding these theories helps clinicians and researchers develop effective strategies for diagnosing, treating, and managing kleptomania as a complex mental health condition. Treatment often involves a combination of therapy, medication, and support aimed at addressing the underlying issues and managing the impulse control difficulties associated with kleptomania.

Risk factors of Kleptomania

Several factors may increase the risk of developing kleptomania, though it’s important to note that having these risk factors doesn’t necessarily mean someone will develop the disorder. The interaction of multiple factors likely contributes to its onset. Some potential risk factors associated with kleptomania include:

Family History:

A history of kleptomania or other impulse control disorders in the family may increase the likelihood of developing the disorder. There might be a genetic predisposition that makes certain individuals more vulnerable to impulse control problems.

Mental Health Conditions:

Co-occurring mental health disorders, such as anxiety disorders, mood disorders (like depression), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or substance use disorders, may increase the risk of kleptomania. These conditions might share underlying factors or vulnerabilities contributing to impulse control difficulties.

Neurobiological Factors:

Certain alterations in brain chemistry, neurotransmitter imbalances, or abnormalities in brain regions associated with impulse control and reward processing might predispose individuals to kleptomania.

Psychological Factors:

Psychological factors, such as a history of trauma, stress, or unresolved emotional conflicts, might contribute to the development of kleptomania. Kleptomania might serve as a maladaptive coping mechanism for underlying emotional distress.

Behavioral Reinforcement:

Previous successful stealing experiences, where the individual experienced relief or pleasure after the theft, might reinforce the behavior and increase the risk of repeated episodes.

Environmental Triggers:

Exposure to environments or situations where stealing behavior is normalized, condoned, or where opportunities for theft are readily available, might increase the risk of developing kleptomania.

Stressful Life Events:

 Traumatic experiences, major life stressors, or significant changes in life circumstances could trigger or exacerbate kleptomania in susceptible individuals.

Personality Traits:

Certain personality traits, such as impulsivity, low self-esteem, or difficulties managing emotions, might be associated with an increased risk of developing kleptomania.

It’s important to recognize that these risk factors interact in complex ways, and not everyone with these risk factors will develop kleptomania. Additionally, seeking professional help and support can be essential in managing and addressing the factors contributing to kleptomania. Early intervention and appropriate treatment can significantly improve the prognosis for individuals affected by this disorder.

Treatment for Kleptomania

Treatment for kleptomania typically involves a combination of therapeutic approaches and, in some cases, medication. The goal of treatment is to help individuals manage their impulses, address underlying issues, and reduce the frequency or severity of stealing episodes. Here are some common treatment strategies:


  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT aims to identify and modify distorted thoughts and behaviors associated with kleptomania. It helps individuals recognize triggers, develop coping strategies, and learn impulse control techniques.
  • Behavioral Therapy: Techniques such as habit reversal training or aversion therapy may be used to replace stealing behaviors with healthier alternatives and discourage the urge to steal.


  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs): Antidepressants like SSRIs may be prescribed to help manage symptoms of kleptomania. These medications can potentially reduce impulsivity and compulsive behaviors.
  • Mood Stabilizers or Antipsychotics: In some cases, mood stabilizers or antipsychotic medications might be used to address underlying mood or impulse control issues.

Support Groups and Counseling:

  • Participating in support groups or counseling sessions, such as group therapy or individual counseling, can provide a supportive environment for individuals with kleptomania. Sharing experiences and receiving encouragement from others facing similar challenges can be beneficial.

Stress Management and Coping Strategies:

  • Learning stress management techniques and developing healthy coping mechanisms can help individuals deal with triggers and reduce the likelihood of stealing episodes.

Addressing Co-occurring Conditions:

  • If there are other mental health conditions coexisting with kleptomania (such as anxiety or depression), addressing these conditions through appropriate treatment can be important in managing kleptomania symptoms.

Family Support and Education:

  • Involving family members in the treatment process can provide support and help create a more understanding and conducive environment for the individual seeking treatment.

It’s crucial for individuals with kleptomania to seek professional help from mental health professionals, such as psychologists, psychiatrists, or counselors, who can provide proper evaluation, diagnosis, and tailored treatment plans. Treatment success may vary depending on individual circumstances, the severity of symptoms, and the commitment to therapy and other interventions.

Consistent treatment, ongoing support, and a multidisciplinary approach that addresses psychological, behavioral, and environmental factors are essential for managing kleptomania effectively.

Therapies for Kleptomania

Several therapeutic approaches are utilized in the treatment of kleptomania to help individuals manage their impulses, understand triggers, and develop healthier coping mechanisms. Here are some of the primary therapies commonly used for kleptomania:

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT):

CBT is one of the most effective therapies for kleptomania. It aims to identify and modify distorted thoughts and behaviors associated with stealing. CBT helps individuals recognize the thoughts and emotions leading to the urge to steal, learn to challenge these thoughts, and develop alternative, healthier behaviors. Techniques such as cognitive restructuring, impulse control strategies, and relapse prevention are often used.

Behavioral Therapy:

Behavioral therapies focus on modifying specific behaviors associated with kleptomania. Techniques like habit reversal training aim to replace stealing behaviors with incompatible actions, such as engaging in a competing response when feeling the urge to steal. Aversion therapy might involve associating stealing with unpleasant consequences to reduce the desire to steal.

Supportive Therapy and Counseling:

Individual or group therapy sessions provide a supportive environment for individuals with kleptomania to share their experiences, gain insight, and receive encouragement from others facing similar challenges. Counseling sessions focus on exploring underlying emotions, triggers, and developing strategies to manage impulses.

Mindfulness-Based Therapies:

Mindfulness techniques, such as mindfulness meditation and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), can help individuals become more aware of their thoughts, feelings, and urges without acting on them impulsively. These techniques promote self-awareness and better impulse control.

Family Therapy and Education:

Involving family members in therapy sessions can provide support and understanding for the individual with kleptomania. Family therapy helps address family dynamics and provides education about kleptomania, fostering a more supportive and understanding environment.

Relapse Prevention Strategies:

Learning relapse prevention techniques helps individuals recognize warning signs and triggers that might lead to stealing episodes. Developing a relapse prevention plan includes strategies to cope with urges and prevent a relapse into stealing behaviors.

These therapies are often used in combination, tailored to the individual’s needs and circumstances. Treatment success can vary, and it’s essential for individuals with kleptomania to engage consistently in therapy, actively participate in treatment, and practice the techniques learned to manage their impulses effectively. Seeking professional help from qualified mental health professionals experienced in treating impulse control disorders is crucial for developing an effective therapeutic plan.

Preventions of Kleptomania

Preventing kleptomania involves understanding potential risk factors and taking proactive steps to address them. While it’s not always possible to prevent the development of this impulse control disorder entirely, certain strategies might help reduce the risk or minimize its impact:

Identify and Address Underlying Issues:

Early intervention and treatment of underlying mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, or OCD, might reduce the risk of developing kleptomania. Seeking therapy or counseling when experiencing emotional distress or difficulties might help prevent the escalation of symptoms.

Stress Management:

Learning and practicing stress management techniques, such as mindfulness, meditation, yoga, or relaxation exercises, can help individuals cope with stress more effectively, potentially reducing the likelihood of turning to stealing as a coping mechanism.

Develop Healthy Coping Skills:

Encourage the development of healthy coping mechanisms to manage emotions and stress. This might include engaging in hobbies, physical activities, creative outlets, or socializing to alleviate stress and negative emotions in healthier ways.

Family Support and Communication:

Foster open communication within families, providing a supportive environment where members can discuss emotions, challenges, and stressors. Supporting family members in seeking help for mental health issues can contribute to overall well-being.

Education and Awareness:

Increasing awareness and education about impulse control disorders, including kleptomania, can help reduce stigma and encourage individuals experiencing symptoms to seek help without feeling ashamed or judged.

Limit Access to Temptations:

For individuals who recognize a tendency toward impulsive behaviors, reducing access to potential triggers or temptations (such as avoiding situations where stealing might occur) can be helpful.

Early Intervention:

If individuals notice recurring urges or impulses to steal or experience distressing thoughts or emotions related to stealing, seeking professional help at an early stage can prevent the escalation of symptoms.

It’s important to note that prevention strategies might vary based on individual circumstances, and there’s no guaranteed way to prevent kleptomania entirely. However, fostering a supportive environment, addressing mental health concerns early, and promoting healthy coping strategies can contribute to overall well-being and potentially reduce the risk of developing impulse control disorders like kleptomania. Seeking guidance from mental health professionals is crucial for individuals exhibiting symptoms or at risk of developing kleptomania.

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