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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Kleptomania (Repetitive Stealing) – Causes, Symptoms, and Cure


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Emmanuella Ekokotu
Ekokotu Emmanuella is a sociologist and Anthropologist, writer, and fashion model who lives in Benin city, Edo state,Nigeria.

Stealing is a worldwide problem, but there are levels to it. For some people, stealing is a crime carried out for the sake of profit, for some others, it’s a game of vengeance, but what happens when someone steals on impulse? Let’s discuss Kleptomania


Just like nymphomania, bipolar disorder, and other conditions, kleptomania is not deliberate. I mean, nobody will steal items they can afford or do not need, or even items with little or no monetary worth, yes? This is what kleptomania is about.

It is a condition that causes its patients to have an impulsive urge to steal almost anything and everything. Kleptomania isn’t a condition that shows up at childhood, it is usually during adolescence and is more common in females than in their male counterpart.

Stealing is a universal crime, which makes it illegal in every part of the world. This is one of the only disorders that can send its victims to jail as stealing has significant legal consequences.

A person dealing with kleptomania may get arrested, tried, and incarcerated as a result of their actions. A study has revealed that up to 68% of people with kleptomania end up getting started, and about 20% of these people get jailed.

Signs and Symptoms

There is a diagnostic criterion for kleptomania, and this criteria which were established by the American Psychiatric Association in the DSM-5 characterizes kleptomania by the consistent inability of a person to resist the urge to steal.

People who deal with kleptomania experience a buildup of tension before they commit the crime of theft. Once the theft is in progress or finally takes place, they feel a release of tension and anxiety. For these ones, stealing offers a feeling of pleasure, gratification, and relief.

While the act of stealing may provide a relieve for the tension such a person may be feeling, he or she may end up feeling remorseful or guilty after stealing. It is quite common for them to feel ashamed, remorseful, self-recriminated, and bitter after each stealing episode.

It is vital to remember that kleptomania is not a condition that makes people steal for the personal benefit of because they are in dire need of wherever is being stolen. a kleptomaniac may be financially stable and even have enough cash at hand to pay for the things they steal.

Items that are completely useless to them are usually the target of their action. The satisfaction of picking such items without being noticed is all the reward they get for stealing.


There are times when a person with kleptomania may decide to store all the stolen items in a place where they do not get to see them so they don’t get a regular feeling of guilt.

Some others may do away with the items by gifting them away to friends or relatives if they have tried and failed to return them to where they were stolen from.

Unlike robberies and other kinds of stealing, the kleptomaniac’s episode of stealing is never premeditated or carefully planned. It is usually spontaneous and without the use of force or arms. People will this condition have no control over when or where the urge to steal arises.

Thus, the urge may arise in public places like playgrounds, malls, or even a neighbor’s apartment. The intensity of the urge to steal also varies. When a kleptomaniac feels like the likelihood of getting caught is high, he or she may resist the urge to steal.

The Key Symptoms of Kleptomania Include:

  • A constant inability of failure to resist the urge to steal impulsively.
  • Stealing items one can afford, items of no monetary value, or owns that one has no need for.
  • Feelings of pleasure or relief during the theft and feeling sober afterward.

What Else Could It Be?

Kleptomania is completely different from normal shoplifting as the intentions of a kleptomaniac differs from that of a normal thief. Shoplifters take time to typically plan their thefts before they perform this behavior to get hold of items they desire but do not have the means to afford.

Individuals dealing with kleptomania, on the flip side of the coin, only steal spontaneously with the aim to relieve the tension that often continues to build up if they do not take the items.

Kleptomania occurs alone in many cases, but it oftentimes, it can appear alongside some mental health conditions as well. People with this kleptomania may also be prone to anxiety and substance, as well as other disorders that have to do with impulse control.

The following are some of the disorders that are likely to occur alongside kleptomania:

Other impulse control disorders

Kleptomania has also been discovered to be associated with the use of substance and alcohol addiction. Even though there is no proof at present, experts have suggested that there may be a possible genetic link that is shared between substance use disorders and kleptomania.

Studies also reveal that about 59 percent of individuals dealing with kleptomania have either been diagnosed with an affective disorder or will end up getting the diagnosis at some point in their lives.


Research has also suggested a similarly high co-morbidity rate with a couple of other psychiatric conditions such as bipolar disorder, eating disorders, and anxiety disorders.

In order for kleptomania to be diagnosed, it is vital that we first establish the fact that the symptoms of this condition cannot be explained better by any other psychiatric condition like an antisocial personality disorder, or conduct disorder.

Causes of kleptomania

The root causes of kleptomania are yet to be known and are very much under investigation. However, it has been suggested that there is a possibility that both genetic and environmental influences play a role in its cause.

Different psychological perspectives have suggested a couple of possible explanations for this condition:

The Psychoanalytic Approach

The psychoanalytic explanations for kleptomania have conceptualized the condition in a number of ways. Some of the explanations suggest that individuals are pushed to obtain items in order to get a symbolical compensation for some sort of neglect or early loss they have experienced.

According to the psychoanalytic approach, the treatment for kleptomania lies in the discovery of underlying motivations behind the behavior.

The Cognitive-Behavioral Approach

Cognitive-behavioral explanations suggest that kleptomania may start when a person is motivated, or positively reinforced for stealing a thing.

This would mean that after the first theft happens with no negative consequences, the possibility of the behavior repeating itself in the future becomes more likely.

Eventually, whatever cues become associated with the action of stealing will become very strong, and that’ll make it a lot more likely to continue.

If an individual dealing with kleptomania finds themselves in a place or a situation where there are similar environmental cues, such a person may find the urge to steal overwhelming, and simply irresistible.


Because the stress and tension that comes with the urge to engage stealing are relieved by the act itself, the behavior also becomes linked with stress relief and also becomes easier to engage in.

In a short time, the person may start to steal, not because they want to, but as a means of coping anxiety and relieving the stress that comes with it.

The Biological Approach

The biological explanations say that stealing as a behavior may be connected to some specific regions of a person’s brain and possible dysregulation of some neurotransmitters.

A few studies have connected dysfunction in the frontal lobe of the brain to the emergence of kleptomania.

In two cases if kleptomania that was reported, blunt trauma to the victim’s frontal lobe led to some physical symptoms like dizziness, cognitive symptoms like memory loss, and behavioral symptoms such as aggression. All of this happened before the sudden start of kleptomania-related behaviors.

Some research has also revealed that SSRIs has been effectively used to treat kleptomania, and indicating that serotonin regulations might be involved.

That’s also the possibility of neurotransmitters like dopamine and endogenous opioids having a role to play in the development of kleptomaniac disorder.

Prevalence of kleptomania


Have you ever wondered how common kleptomania is? Not so common. In fact, the condition is thought to be a relatively rare one.

Estimated data has placed the lifetime prevalence of kleptomania at somewhere from 0.3 to 0.6 of the population, but then, it has also been pointed out that the actual number of cases be higher than the estimate.


Some have suggested that the exact prevalence of the condition is not known but there is an estimate of it impacting approximately 1.2 million adults in the United States, or at least 6 out of every 1000 adults in the world.

It is also estimated that kleptomania as a condition accounts for as much as 5 percent of all shoplifting, which translates to a yearly economic loss of about $500 million.

Just some other conditions, because people may feel ashamed or embarrassed about kleptomania, the disorder is believed to be underreported. The is no national data that assess the prevalence of this condition in the general population of any country.

However, numbers gathered from clinical samples have suggested that kleptomania may a lot more common than was previously believed.

For instance, in a study of clinical patients, it was discovered that nearly 8 percent of the study subjects reported current symptoms that are consistent with kleptomania.


Kleptomania is not self-diagnosed. Instead, it is diagnosed by a mental health professional or a physician.

We have earlier started that kleptomania often co-occurs with other conditions like an eating disorder, substance and alcohol abuse, and anxiety disorders, the condition is often diagnosed when a person is referred to a doctor for check or treat their comorbid psychiatric symptoms.

Finally, there may also be diagnosed if the symptoms of kleptomania have become so dominant that it leads to a victim getting arrested for stealing.

Upon the first examination by a medical doctor, a patient of kleptomania may be referred to a psychiatrist or psychologist for better evaluation. The process of diagnosis may involve the use of patient interviews as well as a review of the patient’s legal records.

Giving psychometric scales like the Yale-Brown Obsessive-Compulsive Scale, Modified for Kleptomania (K-YBOCS) or the Kleptomania Symptoms Assessment Scale (K-SAS) may also prove to be useful in making a proper diagnosis of the condition.


There may be some inaccuracy in the diagnosis of kleptomania because of the secretive nature of the condition, and the associated feelings of shame and guilt. These can cause interference with both the process of diagnosis and treatment of the condition.

In a large number of cases, people only get a diagnosis for this condition and gain access to the right treatment via contact with the legal system when they get caught in the act.

What are the treatments for kleptomania?

There are two very common treatments for the condition called kleptomania. These conditions include:


The use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and a few other antidepressants have proven to be quite effective in the treatment of kleptomania symptoms. They may be used together with cognitive-behavioral therapy.


The target of cognitive-behavioral therapy is both the thoughts of the person and the behaviors that lead to stealing. This process of assessment has been shown to be effective at managing most of the symptoms associated with kleptomania.

Psychotherapy is mostly the first line of treatment when it comes to impulse control disorders, and the goal is to help the patient learn to identify their urges, find out exactly why they end up acting on these impulses and consciously find better ways to relieve tension and urges.

There has also been a recent shift toward the use of psychopharmacological interventions together with psychotherapeutic approaches for treatment.

To help people dealing with Symptoms of kleptomania, early intervention and effective treatment are very important as it can prevent any unnecessary distress and even the obvious legal consequences of their condition.

Also, It is essential to treat any condition that may co-occur with kleptomania with the appropriate interventions.

In conclusion


Kleptomania is a very serious case that should be paid attention to because of the weighty consequence it carries. While awareness for this condition is not sufficient, it is vital that support is offered to patients of kleptomania as stereotyping them may further worsen their condition.

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