Kleptomania Causes, Statistics, Addiction Signs, Symptoms & Side Effects

What is Kleptomania?

Kleptomania is a psychiatric disorder where the sufferer feels pressure and stress building within them to steal something. When the person commits a theft, this pressure is then released. Kleptomania is considered to be an impulse control disorder, but in some arenas, it is believed to fall under the spectrum of obsessive-compulsive disorder. However, this train of thought is disputed.

Often, kleptomaniacs (a person who suffers from kleptomania) experience the misfortune of being associated with other psychiatric disorders, predominantly eating and anxiety disorders. There is also a frequent comorbid relation with alcohol and substance abuse. Kleptomania treatment centers will regularly treat the co-occurring disorders in addition to the kleptomania.

The DSM IV-TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders fourth edition) is a guide that is regularly and extensively used to help determine the diagnosis of mental disorders. The following list shows the characteristics and symptoms that help identify kleptomania:

  • Repeated inability to defend against urges to steal things that are not essential for private use or for their economic value;
  • Escalating sense of pressure immediately prior to performing the theft;
  • Satisfaction, fulfillment or relief at the point of performing the theft;
  • She theft is not executed to convey antagonism or revenge, and is not in reaction to a delusion or a fantasy; and
  • The thieving is not better accounted for by behavior disorder, a manic episode, or antisocial personality disorder.

Uncontrollable stealing leads to a debilitating mental disorder that prevents the person from living a productive life. Kleptomania comes with a great deal of shame and guilt, as well as the potential for serious legal consequences. This mood disorder is destructive to both the sufferer and their loved ones, but help is available. Kleptomania can be managed so a fulfilling life can be lived.

Statistics on Kleptomania

Kleptomania statistics are quite scarce. However, kleptomania is more common than previously thought. The “typical” individual with kleptomania is a 35-year-old woman who began to steal when she was 20 years old. Her thefts bring both relief and guilt [1]. Other statistics include:

  • The prevalence of kleptomania in the U.S. general population is unknown but has been estimated at 6 per 1000 people, which translates into about 1.2 million of the 200 million American adults [2].
  • Kleptomania is thought to account for 5% of shoplifting. Based on total shoplifting costs of $10 billion in 2002, this 5% translates into a $500 million annual loss to the economy attributable to kleptomania [2].
  • Kleptomania generally has its onset in late adolescence or early adulthood and appears to be more common among women. Lifetime psychiatric comorbidity is frequent, mainly with other impulse control (20-46%), substance use (23-50%) and mood disorders (45-100%) [3].

Causes of Kleptomania

It is currently unknown as to why someone develops kleptomania. Some scientists believe that kleptomania is part of an alcohol or substance addiction. Others consider it to be a deviation of an impulse control disorder like eating disorders or obsessive-compulsive disorder. In the majority of cases, it is rare for a man or woman to struggle only with kleptomania. It is most often co-occurring with other psychiatric disorders.

Signs and Symptoms of Kleptomania

Signs of kleptomania are often misdiagnosed as common theft, but there are a few symptoms and signs to look for when evaluating if someone may be struggling with kleptomania. If these warning signs are observed, then help needs to be provided to the individual. Some of the indications of kleptomania include:

  • Powerful urges to steal items not needed
  • Thoughts of intrusion
  • Unable to resist the compulsion to steal
  • Release of pressure following the theft
  • Stress
  • Remorse

Kleptomania Effects

There is substantial amount of emotional pain suffered by someone with kleptomania. Battling kleptomania can also present some physical consequences. In addition, kleptomania is not curable; it can only be managed. Therefore, living a normal life can be difficult as kleptomania can affect all aspects of a man or woman’s life. Emotional effects include:

  • Guilt
  • Increased tension leading to theft
  • Feeling pleasure or gratification while stealing
  • Shame
  • Powerful urges to steal items not needed
  • Thoughts of intrusion
  • Unable to resist the compulsion to steal
  • Release of pressure following the theft
  • Stress
  • Remorse
  • Struggling with another mood disorder

There are very few physical effects that result from kleptomania are:

  • Arrest
  • Incarceration

Unwanted social consequences:

  • Considered a thief
  • Substance abuse addiction can be developed
  • Ostracized from loved ones
  • Termination of job
  • Poor self image
  • Criminal record

Kleptomania Treatment

The person suffering from kleptomania disorder has to deal with strong feelings of guilt, shame and remorse. These are feelings that must continually be dealt with if the disorder goes untreated. There is no cure for kleptomania. The best way to manage kleptomania is with a combination of pharmaceutical and behavioral treatments. Professional support is available from kleptomania treatment centers and licensed therapists. Loved ones will also help. Ask someone for help so you can manage kleptomania and regain control of your life.


[1]: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1853988

[2]: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC535651/

[3]: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17713696

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on April 15th, 2013
Published on AddictionHope.com, Resources for Substance Abuse

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