Kleptomania is a type of impulse control disorder — a disorder that’s characterized by problems with emotional or behavioral self-control. If you have an impulse control disorder, you have difficulty resisting the temptation or drive to perform an act that’s excessive or harmful to you or someone else.
Many people with kleptomania live lives of secret shame because they’re afraid to seek mental health treatment. Although there’s no cure for kleptomania, treatment with medication or talk therapy (psychotherapy) may help to end the cycle of compulsive stealing.
Kleptomania symptoms may include:
- Inability to resist powerful urges to steal items that you don’t need
- Feeling increased tension, anxiety or arousal leading up to the theft
- Feeling pleasure, relief or gratification while stealing
- Feeling terrible guilt, remorse, self-loathing, shame or fear of arrest after the theft
- Return of the urges and a repetition of the kleptomania cycle.
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People with kleptomania typically exhibit these features or characteristics:
- Unlike typical shoplifters, people with kleptomania don’t compulsively steal for personal gain, on a dare, for revenge or out of rebellion. They steal simply because the urge is so powerful that they can’t resist it.
2. Episodes of kleptomania generally occur spontaneously, usually without planning and without help or collaboration from another person.
3. Most people with kleptomania steal from public places, such as stores and supermarkets. Some may steal from friends or acquaintances, such as at a party.
4. Often, the stolen items have no value to the person with kleptomania, and the person can afford to buy them.
5. The stolen items are usually stashed away, never to be used. Items may also be donated, given away to family or friends, or even secretly returned to the place from which they were stolen.
6. Urges to steal may come and go or may occur with greater or lesser intensity over the course of time
The cause of kleptomania is unknown, although it may have a genetic component and may be transmitted among first-degree relatives. There also seems to be a strong propensity for kleptomania to coexist with obsessive-compulsive disorder, bulimia nervosa, and clinical depression.