Kleptomania: Why do some people feel an irresistible urge to steal

If you feel an uncontrollable urge to steal, it may be due to kleptomania. Let us tell you everything about kleptomania, which is an impulse control disorder.
Kleptomania is a mental health disorder. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock
Natalia Ningthoujam Published: 30 May 2024, 03:00 pm IST
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Kleptomania is a mental health condition where a person repeatedly acts on impulses to steal products even if they are not needed. It involves problems with emotional or behavioral self-control. Kleptomaniacs may feel anxiety or arousal right before they steal something. It is a rare mental health condition, but real. There is no cure for kleptomania, but treatment with medicine or therapy can help kleptomaniacs. Read on to know all about kleptomania.

What is kleptomania?

Kleptomania is a mental health disorder that involves being unable to resist the urge to steal items that you typically don’t really need. The items stolen by kleptomaniacs usually have little value and can be easily bought by them. It is a type of impulse control disorder that involves problems with emotional or behavioral self-control, says clinical psychologist Ankur Singh Kapur. If you have an impulse control disorder, you have difficulty in resisting the temptation or powerful urge to perform an act that can cause harm to you or someone else. It is exceedingly rare, as it occurs in approximately 0.3 to 0.6 percent of the general population, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

A woman feeling anxious due to kleptomania
Kleptomaniacs have a powerful urge to steal something even if they don’t need it. Image courtesy: Adobe stock

Is kleptomania a part of OCD?

Kleptomania and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) are different psychiatric conditions, even though they share some similarities. Kleptomania involves an irresistible urge to steal items, generally without need or monetary value, driven by tension and relief. On the other hand, OCD is characterised by unwanted, repetitive thoughts (obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions) performed to alleviate anxiety. While both conditions involve compulsive behaviors, kleptomania is classified as an impulse control disorder, which is not a part of OCD. However, the comorbidity between the two can happen – meaning a person may experience both disorders simultaneously, says the expert. Treatment approaches for both can differ, though cognitive-behavioral therapy is commonly used for both.

What are the symptoms of kleptomania?

Symptoms of kleptomania generally include:

  • Inability to resist strong urges to steal products that you don’t even need
  • Getting tensed, anxious or feeling arousal leading up to the theft
  • Feeling pleasure, relief or satisfaction while stealing
  • Feeling guilt, shame or fear of getting arrested after stealing

What are the causes of kleptomania?

There are no known causes of kleptomania, but it is believed to be linked to certain factors like problems with serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps in regulating moods and emotions, says Kapur. It may also be due to the presence of addictive disorders. Kleptomania is often found in people with other mental health conditions, including addiction, depression, and personality disorders, according to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Neurosciences in Rural Practice.

A woman feeling guilty due to kleptomania
Kleptomaniacs often feel guilty after stealing. Image courtesy: Shutterstock.

How is it diagnosed?

Kleptomania is diagnosed on the basis of your symptoms. To diagnose this problem, a doctor may conduct a physical exam and psychological evaluation. The physical exam can help to find out if there are any medical causes that are triggering the symptoms. To facilitate diagnosis, the doctor may ask questions about your impulses and how they make you feel, review a list of situations to understand if certain situations trigger kleptomania, discuss the problems you have had because of your behavior, make you fill a questionnaire or self-assessments.

How to treat kleptomania?

There is no cure for kleptomania, but treatment with medicine or skill-building therapy that focuses on dealing with urges may help in ending the cycle of compulsive stealing. There is no Food and Drug Administration-approved medicine for kleptomania either. However, a doctor may prescribe an addiction treatment medicine which may reduce the urges and pleasure associated with stealing, says the expert.

Kleptomania is rare, but can be a very serious condition. It can cause emotional pain to you and your loved ones and even legal problems if not treated on time.

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About the Author

Natalia Ningthoujam has written on various subjects - from music to films and fashion to lifestyle - as a journalist in her career that started in 2010. After getting stories from the crime scene, police headquarters, and conducting interviews with celebrities, she is now writing on health and wellness which has become her focus area. ...Read More

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