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Kleptomania (compulsive stealing)


What does the term Kleptomania refer to?

The term 'Kleptomania' is derived from ancient Greek words 'Klepto' meaning 'to steal' and 'mania' meaning 'mad desire'. Kleptomania is basically a compulsive disorder that rises an urge in people to steal things without any regards to its need and value. The victim experiences recurrent failure and inability to refrain from succumbing to the aforementioned urges. Associated with the problems regarding behavior or emotional self-control, this disorder is sometimes diagnosed under impulse control disorders as this disorder signify problems in resisting the temptation to engage in an activity that's harmful to oneself. Other times this disorder shows characteristics of obsessive-compulsive disorder as the person may feel some pressure lifting off after stealing. Rather than issues related to kleptomania disorder alone, it's patients are often treated with therapies in other areas due to comorbid grievances.

What is the difference between Kleptomania and ordinary theft?

Ordinary thefts are deliberate and they are fueled by the monetary worth of the stolen objects or its usefulness, meanwhile in Kleptomania, there is a strong urge to steal items which is purely impulsive without any regards to their need or monetary worth.

What are the signs and symptoms of Kleptomania? How is it diagnosed?

There are some signs and symptoms that can help us to identify kleptomania. Let us learn what these signs and symptoms are:

  • A kleptomaniac person experiences recurring intrusive thoughts and inability to abstain from stealing items that they do not need or have no care for its monetary worth.
  • Kleptomania disorder may lead to the development of other disorders as well corresponding to changes in mood, anxiety, impulse control, social segregation and substance abuse.
  • Prior to stealing, the individual also experiences a significant increase in tension, anxiety, arousal and an escalating sense of pressure.
  • Upon successful performance of the theft, a sense of satisfaction, fulfillment, pleasure, relief or gratification is felt.
  • Feelings of Shame, self-loathing and fear of getting arrested after the theft are also common in this disorder.
  • In no way does the theft convey ill feelings of revenge and antagonism. Neither is it a reaction to a delusion or a fantasy.

The symptoms and characteristics mentioned above should be present to meet the criteria for the diagnosis of Kleptomania. These signs may contribute to intensifying and even cause general comorbid disorders. Other behavior disorders such as manic episodes and antisocial personality disorder should be ruled out before the diagnosis of Kleptomania disorder. The many types of mental disorders frequently co-occurring with Kleptomania make its clinical diagnosis difficult.

What are the other disorders that have ties with Kleptomania?

Comorbidity of other psychiatric disorders (such as mood swings, anxiety, eating disorders and substance abuse) with Kleptomania isn't surprising. It has also been established that Kleptomania is linked with depression. In some cases, alleviation of depressive feelings after theft has been reported. Following are the disorders that may resemble Kleptomania in some aspects.

Substance abuse disorder

Irrespective of the penalties, the individual continues to take part in the behavior just the same as in Substance abuse disorder. They hold no control over their behavior and feel constantly desired to participate in the problematic behavior. They feel a certain sense of pleasure throughout the activity in both disorders.

Kleptomania disorder is recorded to be more common among a higher percentage of adolescents and young adults, the percentage decreasing significantly with the increase in age. Therefore implementing same analogous natural history as observed in substance abuse. People with substance abuse disorders are more at risk of kleptomania than the general population. Based on the observation that substance abuse disorders and kleptomania share some etiological features hint that the same treatment given to substance addicts may prove effective for Kleptomaniacs as well.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder

As it has been briefly explained above in the article, Kleptomania is said to be a part obsessive-compulsive disorders as there is an alleviation of the pressure after the deed has been carried out. Some Kleptomaniacs form habits of hoarding the items they steal, the same symptoms can be found in OCD patients. However the relationship between the two isn't found to be much strong since comorbidity of Kleptomania in OCD subjects or vice-versa show inconsistent results.


Pyromania is an impulsive disorder that relates to setting fires. Some Kleptomania subjects too opt for setting fires after carrying out the theft, thereby forming ties between Pyromania and Kleptomania.

How can Kleptomania be treated?

There is a diverse range of treatments that have been introduced for the treatment of this ambiguous disorder. These treatments are as follows-

Psychoanalytic and Psychodynamic approach

Instead of being viewed as a bio-medical disorder, Kleptomania is observed within the psychodynamic lens. Psychoanalytic approach meanwhile, provides more insight into the biomedical domain. Definition of Kleptomania as given by Psychoanalysts, is an indication of a defense mechanism adopted by the unconscious ego that works against anxiety, prohibited desires, forbidden sexual drives and excitement and dread of castration throughout the act of stealing whereas the psychodynamic theories revolve around a variety of points of view. These approaches granted the basis for prolonged psychoanalytic or psychodynamic psychotherapy as the core treatment method for Kleptomania.

Behavioral and cognitive intervention

Cognitive-behavioral therapy combined with medication has been proven effective in treatment of Kleptomania and has successfully replaced the previously mentioned approaches. There are several approaches used in CBT for varying severity of the disorder. These are- hidden sensitization by unpleasant images of nausea and vomiting, aversion therapy and systematic desensitization.

Drug Treatment

Keeping in mind the similarities between Kleptomania and some other disorders such as substance abuse and obsessive-compulsive disorders, it was established that similar group of medications could be used to treat Kleptomania as well.

Primarily, a form of antidepressants, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor or SSRI is used in treating Kleptomania as well as other disorders.

The central part of impulse control disorders are the symptoms that related to the urges. To relieve these urges, Opioid receptor antagonists such as naltrexone are used. This property of this class of medications is proven useful in treating kleptomania in addition to some other impulse control disorders.

A number of mood stabilizers and other antidepressants too are prescribed to help treat the symptoms of Kleptomania.

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