What is Kleptomania?

We look into what is kleptomania, and what people with this disorder go through when that strong compulsion to steal comes forth. We dig deeper into the symptoms, and causes as to what propels these people to steal.
PsycholoGenie Staff
Last Updated: Jun 3, 2018
Definition of Kleptomania
Kleptomania is a disorder where one feels an impulsive need to steal, without necessarily having a monetary motive in mind. These people, or 'kleptomaniacs', find it increasingly difficult to resist the urge to steal something, be it from a convenience store, someone's home or a big shopping mall. Their motives aren't premeditated, but are acted upon because of that itching need to shoplift. They don't really need the things they steal, but just take them because the urge is so strong.
In the US, it is said that out of 11 people, there is one kleptomaniac, and because of this, it has cost the states millions of dollars in retail losses. Kleptomania is not something that one can take control over, by addressing morality issues, but is something that has to be approached with a sympathetic view. These people don't mean to steal the things they take, resulting in years of stealing, even if they have no use for these stolen goods. Parents, relatives and friends alike should understand what those they know, are going through since this is an illness that is best combated with the help of near and dear ones.
When it comes to kleptomaniac confessions, they come off as dumbfounded and shocked that it was a psychological illness to begin with. They aren't horrendous people, they just suffer from a severe disorder. Research done on kleptomaniacs suggest that two-thirds of people with this problem are women. Even brain injury and mental illnesses can bring about such a disorder. There are things that cause this to take form in a person, and we will discuss how this isn't something that is influenced upon them, but more inborn.
Causes of Kleptomania
Kleptomaniac behavior is usually kept to victims themselves, where they don't share this certain trait of theirs with other people. They're afraid of what others may think - if they confide in someone about the stealing, they're afraid that they may report it to the authorities. There is no cure for this disorder, except some form of treatment or therapy available for kleptomaniacs. The reasons as to why these people steal, are.
  • Feelings of depression.
  • Anxiety
  • Eating disorders, like bulimia and anorexia.
  • Indulging in alcohol / drugs.
  • Impulsive disorders of another kind, being their fuel to act out on stealing, like OCD.
Mind of a Kleptomaniac
To understand how a kleptomaniac functions, we look into how their minds work, and how they feel when they get involved with stealing.
  • When he / she steals, they feel extreme pleasure, that is both relieving and satisfying, when taking these items.
  • Things stolen aren't needed by those who steal them, and the impulse makes them randomly pick out items.
  • It has nothing to do with their emotions, like anger or resentment.
  • Dopamine is released in the body when one feels good about something, in this case they want to feel that emotion repeatedly post stealing.
  • Some items stolen can stem a fetish sort of attitude when taking particular items, like say undergarments.
  • Those who carry out these acts are perfectly sane, and do not know most of the time that it is a sickness.
  • There is an element of stress just before he / she steals items.
  • Arguments can fuel one's urge to steal.
  • Things stolen are given to either family or friends, or later returned to the store on the quiet.
  • They feel guilty and fear the possibility of being caught, although they repeat it all over again another time.
  • Often what is stolen is kept away, and not used.
Kleptomania Symptoms
The symptoms come to the surface when one feels the following strong emotions after / before he / she steals something.
  • Feeling tensed before stealing an item.
  • A strong sense of wanting to steal something, that one doesn't even need.
  • Feeling ashamed and guilty about having stolen that item.
  • Immense sense of pleasure after stealing.
  • Future urges to repeat stealing episodes.
  • Items stolen have nothing to do with financial problems.
Kleptomania Treatment
If not completely stop the stealing, at least the urge can be suppressed with these medications for kleptomania.

Mood Stabilizers
These medications are to help keep moods stable, without having it deviate from a normal frame of mind, so that it doesn't provoke that side of him / her to fulfill that kleptomania urge. Medicines like lithium may be of help.

Antidepressants
Antidepressants, like serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), fluvoxamine, fluoxetine, paroxetine and so on, can help kleptomaniacs. Check with your doctor first about the side effects of SSRIs, since they are known to trigger in some cases, acts of kleptomania.

Anti-seizure Medications
Valproic acid or topiramate, can help counter the urge to steal in some cases. In any case, consulting a doctor first would be advisable.

Addiction Medication
Known to numb that part of your brain that gets the inclination to feel pleasure and satisfaction, thus snuffing the urge to steal. Naltrexone is one such drug.
If you know people who suffer from this, and haven't gotten the kind of help they really need, you have to first approach them without posing as a threat to them. Discuss things like psychotherapy, and how no one is there to throw him / her behind bars. Understanding this is key to have these people treated, before they get caught for committing crimes that are bigger, and those that can land them into so much more trouble.