You don't need that thing, and you can afford to buy it, but you can't help yourself: you just take it. Kleptomaniacs compulsively steal items that are not needed or have little monetary value, and experience a rush of pleasure as a result.


Kleptomania is defined by a number of features including a consistent tendency to steal items not needed for personal use or monetary value. The objects are stolen despite that they are typically of little value to the individual, who could have afforded to pay for them and often gives them away or discards them.

Another aspect of kleptomania involves experiencing tension before the theft and feelings of pleasure, gratification or relief when committing the theft. The stealing is not done to express anger or vengeance, or in response to a delusion or hallucination, and is not attributed to conduct disorder, a manic episode or antisocial personality disorder.

Occasionally the individual may hoard the stolen objects or surreptitiously return them. Although someone with this disorder will generally avoid stealing when immediate arrest is probable (such as in full view of a police officer), they usually do not plan the thefts or fully take into account the chances of apprehension. The stealing is done without collaboration with others.


These patients have an irresistible inclination to steal. These episodes of stealing seem to occur unexpectedly, without planning. Often they throw away the stolen goods, as they are mostly interested in the stealing itself. Kleptomania is distinguished from shoplifting because shoplifters plan stealing of objects and usually steal because they do not have money to purchase the items. Signs of kleptomania include:

  • Recurrent failure to resist stealing impulses unrelated to personal use or financial need
  • Feeling increased tension right before the theft
  • Thefts are not committed in response to delusions, hallucinations or as expressions of revenge or anger
  • Feeling pleasure, gratification or relief at the time of the theft
  • Thefts cannot be better explained by Antisocial Personality Disorder, Conduct Disorder or a Manic Episode

The age of onset for Kleptomania is variable. It can begin in childhood, adolescence or adulthood and in rare cases, late adulthood.


Kleptomania is rare overall, but more common in females than in males. It is obviously difficult to document the precise number of people with this problem. People with kleptomania often have another psychiatric disorder, often a mood disorder such as depression and anxiety. There is indirect evidence linking it with abnormalities in the brain chemical serotonin. Some other research suggests that kleptomania may be related to addiction disorders.

Some clinicians view kleptomania as part of the obsessive-compulsive spectrum of disorders, reasoning that many individuals experience the impulse to steal as an alien, unwanted intrusion into their mental state. Also, other evidence indicates that kleptomania may be related to, or a variant of, mood disorders, such as depression.

Depression, anxiety, eating disorders and substance abuse disorders are common in individuals with kleptomania.


Psychological Counseling or Therapy

Counseling or therapy may be in a group or one-on-one setting. It is usually aimed at dealing with underlying psychological problems that may be contributing to kleptomania. It may also include:

  • Behavior modification therapy
  • Family therapy

Medications Drugs used for treatment include:

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which raise serotonin levels in the brain:

  • Fluoxetine (Prozac; most commonly used)
  • Fluvoxamine (Luvox)
  • Paroxetine (Paxil)
  • Sertraline (Zoloft)

On March 22, 2004, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a Public Health Advisory that cautions physicians, patients, families and caregivers of patients with depression to closely monitor both adults and children receiving certain antidepressant medications. The FDA is concerned about the possibility of worsening depression and/or the emergence of suicidal thoughts, especially among children and adolescents at the beginning of treatment, or when there is an increase or decrease in the dose. The medications of concern -- mostly SSRIs (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors) -- are: Prozac (fluoxetine), Zoloft (sertraline), Paxil (paroxetine), Luvox (fluvoxamine), Celexa (citalopram); Lexapro (escitalopram), Wellbutrin (bupropion), Effexor (venlafaxine), Serzone (nefazodone), and Remeron (mirtazapine). Of these, only Prozac (fluoxetine) is approved for use in children and adolescents for the treatment of major depressive disorder. Prozac (fluoxetine), Zoloft (sertraline) and Luvox (fluvoxamine) are approved for use in children and adolescents for the treatment of obsessive compulsive disorder.)


  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
  • National Health Information Center
  • Psychiatry Online
Last reviewed 11/24/2014