Impulse Control Disorders
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Kathryn Patricelli, MA

What is Kleptomania?

Kleptomania is classified in the DSM-5 in the category of Disruptive, Impulse-Control, and Conduct Disorders. All of the disorders in this category involve problems controlling behavior and emotions.

The symptoms of this disorder include:

  • compulsive stealing of items that are not needed for personal use or for their monetary or other value. The items stolen typically have very little value to the person and they often could have paid for it instead of taking it. After stealing the item, the person will often throw it away or give it to someone else, rather than keeping it, but sometimes will hoard the items or eventually return them in secret. The thefts are usually not planned ahead of time and do not involve the help of others, instead it is an impulse in the moment that is not resisted.
  • feeling an increased level of tension before the stealing occurs.
  • feeling pleasure, gratification or relief when committing the stealing.
  • the stealing is not done to express anger or vengeance and isn't related to a delusion or hallucination.
  • the stealing is not better explained by conduct disorder, a manic episode, or antisocial personality disorder.

How common is Kleptomania?

Research has found that 4-24% of individuals arrested for shoplifting have kleptomania. In the general population, it is very rare at about 0.3-0.6% and is found in females at three times higher a rate than in males.

What are the risk factors for Kleptomania?

While no direct risk factors have been found for kleptomania, research has found that those with a first-degree relative (parents or siblings) have a higher rate of obsessive-compulsive disorder and substance use disorder than the general population.

What other disorders or conditions often occur with Kleptomania?

The DSM-5 reports that kleptomania is associated with compulsive buying, as well as depressive disorders, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, eating disorders (particularly bulimia nervosa), personality disorders, substance use disorders (especially alcohol use disorder), and other disruptive, impulse-control, and conduct disorders.

How is Kleptomania treated?

Those with this disorder often feel a lot of shame at their inability to resist stealing and therefore, often do not seek treatment on their own. When they do finally enter treatment, there are two main treatments for this disorder, which are psychotherapy and medication.

The main treatment is psychotherapy. This is typically cognitive behavioral therapy, in which the therapist helps the person identify triggers that cause their desire to steal and then teaches new coping skills to deal with those impulses in healthy ways. This may also include the use of aversion therapy and different types of imagery/desensitization in which the person imagines themselves stealing and then facing the consequences of getting caught, or practices relaxation techniques to reduce the impulse.

There are no approved medications for kleptomania, but medication used in addiction treatment is sometimes used to counter the impulses being felt. Other medications may be used if co-occurring disorders are also present, such as an antidepressant if the person also has depression or bipolar disorder.