Kleptomania – What It Is Really Like

“A Kleptomaniac is a person who helps himself because he can’t help himself” – Henry Morgan

When we think of stealing, the first thing that comes to mind is financial gain. But when we talk about Kleptomania, financial gain is far from the objective.

What is Kleptomania?

Kleptomania can be understood as an impulse control disorder which causes significant impairment and has a number of consequences. The main attribute of the disorder is recurrent instances of compulsive stealing or shoplifting. The articles stolen usually are of trivial value and are most often not required by the individual stealing them.

The disorder usually starts to appear by the time of adolescence and is seen predominantly in women than in men. As stealing is illegal, individuals suffering from this disorder may also face legal consequences. Many kleptomaniacs also feel guilty or remorseful but are never able to resist the urge.

Kleptomaniacs can be distinguished from shoplifters as the latter have the urge to steal articles they desire but cannot afford. On the contrary, an individual suffering from kleptomania steals spontaneously in order to satisfy the tension that builds within them if they do not.

Kleptomaniacs feel strong urges to steal along with anxiety, leading up to theft and feeling pleasure once the theft is completed. This disorder can occur by itself as well as with a number of comorbidities such as anxiety, depression, body dysmorphia, obsessive compulsive disorder and other impulse control disorders.


Risk factors causing Kleptomania 

A number of factors contribute to kleptomania. They can be genetic/biological or psychological in nature.

-When talking about genetic or biological factors one can say without a doubt that comorbidities may lead to the emergence of kleptomania. The strongest link is seen between kleptomania and obsessive compulsive disorder.

Low serotonin levels lead to an increase of impulsive behaviors which further lead to the development of kleptomania. Since stealing causes a release of dopamine, it becomes addictive for the individuals suffering from it.

-Psychological trauma inflicted at an early age may give rise to developing kleptomania by the time of adolescence. Factors like family dysfunction may also lead children to steal and can be a starting point for kleptomania.

-Different perspectives in psychology have also provided different explanations as to why kleptomania is caused.

– Psychoanalytic Approach: According to this approach individuals are driven to steal objects in order to compensate for some form of early loss or neglect in a symbolic manner. The treatment for the disorder lies in the underlying motivations of behavior.

– Cognitive-Behavioral Approach: According to this approach, the disorder may start as a result of someone reinforcing stealing. If there are no negative consequences of stealing, then it is likely that the behavior will occur again. With time, cues associated with stealing become stronger and therefore when similar environmental cues are present, the urge to steal may become overwhelming and irresistible. An individual may engage in stealing as a way to relieve stress.

– Biological Approach: Some studies indicate that the emergence of kleptomania is in relation to to the frontal lobe of the brain. The regulation of serotonin as stated above is also a causal factor in the emergence of the same.


Treatment of Kleptomania 

There are two main kinds of treatments for kleptomania. Taking medication is an important way to treat kleptomania. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and antidepressants have proved be effective. They can also be used along with cognitive-behavior therapy.

Psychotherapy also proves to be extremely effective when it comes to the treatment of kleptomania. Cognitive-behavior therapy helps the individual to a great extent as it has a goal of helping the individual recognize their urges to steal and examine why they act on their impulses. Furthermore, this form of therapy helps the individual find appropriate ways of satisfying their urges.



While we understood what kleptomania is, what causes it and how it is treated, it is also important to note what one can to on a personal level to help someone suffering from kleptomania. One has to be compassionate towards them.

It is essential to be as understanding as possible and always let them know that they are loved and appreciated and their disorder does not change that. Secondly, one can encourage them to get help from a psychiatrist or speak to a counsellor who can help them work through their urges and impulses and find alternative ways to work it.

And lastly, supporting them is of utmost importance. It is important to make them believe that they are not alone. Going through mental health problems causes a great deal of distress and feeling alone at such a time derails their recovery. Therefore, it is imperative for one to constantly support and stand by someone who is going through such a problem.


Cherry, K. (2020, November 25). What You Need To Know About Kleptomania. Retrieved January 23, 2021, from

Durst, R., Katz, G., Teitelbaum, A. et al. Kleptomania. Mol Diag Ther 15, 185–195 (2001).

My friend is a kleptomaniac – how can I help? (n.d.). Retrieved January 23, 2021, from

What do you think?

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Written by Anushka Kapadia

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Athya Ashraf

Very less awareness has been known about it. Extremely informative!
Keep up the good work!