Kleptomania

Kleptomania is a condition in which an individual experiences a consistent impulse to steal items not needed for use or monetary value. The objects are stolen despite typically being of little value to the individual and are often given away or discarded after being taken.

Although someone with this disorder will generally avoid stealing when immediate arrest is likely, the individual usually does not plan out the thefts. People with kleptomania commonly feel depressed or guilty about the thefts after they occur.

About 0.3 to 0.6 percent of people are estimated to experience this condition, and it is more common among females than males, according to the DSM-5.

Symptoms

The DSM-5 criteria for a diagnosis of kleptomania include:

  • Recurrent impulses to steal—and instances of stealing—objects that are not needed for personal use or financial gain
  • Feeling increased tension right before the theft
  • Feeling pleasure, gratification, or relief at the time of the theft
  • Thefts are not committed in response to delusions or hallucinations, or as expressions of revenge or anger
  • 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.

Causes

People with kleptomania often have another psychiatric disorder, such as depressive or bipolar disorders, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, personality disorders, substance abuse disorders, and other impulse-control disorders. Kleptomania appears to involve the neurotransmitter pathways in the brain associated with the serotonin, dopamine, and opioid systems, according to the DSM-5.

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. Other evidence indicates that kleptomania may be related to, or a variant of, mood disorders such as depression.

Treatment

The treatment for kleptomania may include a combination of psychotherapy and psychopharmacology.

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. Possible treatments include:

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which raise serotonin levels in the brain, may also be used to treat kleptomania.

References

  • American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
  • National Health Information Center
  • Christianini, A. R., Conti, M. A., Hearst, N., Cordás, T. A., de Abreu, C. N., & Tavares, H. (2015). Treating kleptomania: cross-cultural adaptation of the Kleptomania Symptom Assessment Scale and assessment of an outpatient program. Comprehensive psychiatry, 56, 289-294.

Last reviewed 02/07/2019