To Be a Kleptomaniac: A Guide to Kleptomania

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To Be a Kleptomaniac: A Guide to KleptomaniaCharacterized as an impulse control disorder in which an individual cannot control his or her urge to steal, Kleptomania is a real and serious disorder that many around the world suffer from. From statistics to facts to case examples and more, learn all about what it means to be a Kleptomaniac and the possible treatments one can receive.

Kleptomaniac Definition

A Kleptomaniac is a person that suffers from the disorder of Kleptomania. The disorder surrounds the urges of the stealing behaviors and not whether the rewards or consequences that may occur due to the act of stealing. The items that are taken usually have minimal value and are not needed by the individual that is stealing them. Many times the compulsions to steal are ego-dystonic and are upsetting to the individual.

Man in a supermarket stealing a bottle of champagne, kleptomania symptoms and behaviors

When an individual suffers from this disorder they may gain a rush or a positive reward from the act of stealing. This rush can be equivalent to how an individual feels when they are experiencing a manic episode.

Define Manic

A manic episode is not a diagnosis but a state of mind.

When an individual is manic, they experience an elevated mood, inflated self-esteem, decreased need for sleep, racing thoughts, difficulty maintaining attention, an increase in goal-directed activity, and excessive involvement in pleasurable activities. These symptoms can significantly impact a person’s daily activities and life.

They can hinder relationships and if not controlled could cause an individual to damage many aspects of his or her life.

Kleptomania DSM 5: What Does it Mean for Everyday Life?

Kleptomania is a disorder that is categorized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM-5).

For an individual to be diagnosed with this disorder they have to have

  1. A recurrent failure to resist impulses to steal objects that are not needed for personal use or monetary value
  2. He or she has an increased sense of tension immediately before committing the theft
  3. He or she experiences pleasure, gratification, or relief at the time of committing the theft
  4. The stealing is not committed to express anger or vengeance and is not in response to a delusion or a hallucination
  5. The stealing is not better accounted for by conduct disorder, a manic episode or antisocial personality disorder (APA, 2013).

If an individual suffers from this disorder, he or she may have an average life but when in a store or a location other than his or her home, they may tend to take things that do not belong to them. This may not be an object that they want and may be something meaningless. But they do this for the urge of the behavior of stealing and doing this helps them to feel.

Many times they have a specific object that they will steal: batteries, remote controls, small toys, pens, paper, or paper clips. Many individuals that experience this disorder not only shoplift but also steal things from coworkers, friends, or family. The urge to steal is what causes the Kleptomaniac to participate in the act of stealing.

The thefts are not preplanned and the individual tends to avoid stealing if there is an immediate risk of arrest.  This is a behavior that is normally done individually and not in collaboration with others.

Kleptomania Stats: How Many Suffer from this Disorder?

Since the rise in stealing and theft throughout society, does it mean that Kleptomania is on the rise?

Surprisingly, the prevalence of this disorder only occurs in 4%-24% of individuals arrested for shoplifting and is rare in the general population.  It has been found that this disorder is more prevalent if an individual already experiences psychiatric disorders.


Females are more prominent than males to experience this disorder at a ratio of 3:1.

There is not a specific population that experiences this disorder, however, it has been found that fairly wealthy or individuals with good jobs experience this more than a lower socioeconomic status.

Kleptomania ICD 10: The 5 Facts You Didn’t Know About Kleptomaniacs

  1. Kleptomaniacs belong to fairly wealthy families or have good jobs that do not require them to steal things.
  2. Some kleptomaniacs may attain sexual gratification after the act is committed.
  3. A kleptomaniac may suffer from extreme anxiety and tension until the theft is successfully committed.
  4. The sense of pleasure or relief is triggered by the chemical changes that occur in their brain due to the adrenaline rush that occurs from the theft.
  5. There are many celebrities that suffer from this disorder, including but not limited to Lindsey Lohan, Britney Spears, Farrah Fawcett, and Megan Fox.

Kleptomania Symptoms

Some of the symptoms to look out for if you feel that you are a loved one are experiencing kleptomania:

  • Feelings of tension and excitement caused by the impulse to steal
  • Having random irresistible powerful urges to steal meaningless objects that are not needed
  • Feelings of guilt and remorse after stealing
  • Feelings of shame, self-loathing, and afraid of being arrested for stealing
  • The urges to steal are repeated and occur even if the individual has been arrested for the behavior.
  • The urges to steal are done individually and are not influenced by others.

Common Behaviors/Characteristics

Even though shoplifting and theft are on the rise, kleptomania only occurs in a small percentage of the population.

It does tend to occur more prevalent in women than with men. This may not be a true finding because many of the women who steal tend to get a psychiatric evaluation while many men go to prison.

There does not appear to be one social group or class that is more predominant for kleptomania.

The most common behavior or characteristic of a kleptomaniac is a person that steals meaningless things that they could normally afford but steal the object to overcome the powerful urge that they experience.

How Can People Become a Kleptomaniac?

There is not a distinct cause and effect to become a kleptomaniac.  It has been identified that if an individual experiences a traumatic brain injury, they could begin to experience compulsive stealing behaviors.  Also if an individual already has another psychiatric condition, they may be more prevalent to experience kleptomania.

Kleptomania Test: How is it Diagnosed?

There is not a test to determine whether an individual experiences Kleptomania but if an individual meets the diagnostic criteria they can be diagnosed with this disorder. For an individual to get diagnosed with Kleptomania, they would need to be clinically evaluated by a Licensed clinician to determine the prognosis, treatment plan needed, and develop a course of treatment.

Stealing Definition

Stealing is taking another person’s property without his or her person or legal right without the intention to return.

Kleptomania Criteria

Just because a person steals does not mean they are kleptomaniacs.

For a person to be a kleptomaniac, they have recurrent failure to resist impulses to steal objects that are not needed for personal use or their monetary value; experience an increased sense of tension immediately before committing the theft; gain pleasure, gratification, or relief at the time of committing theft; the stealing is not committed to express anger or vengeance and is not in response to a delusion or hallucination; and the stealing is not better accounted for by conduct disorder, a manic episode, or antisocial personality disorder.

Kleptomania vs Shoplifting Definition

So if an individual steals, does this make them a kleptomaniac?

First, we have to determine, does the individual steal for financial gain? Or are they stealing because they have the urge to steal for the rush of stealing and not the object that is stolen? The definition of shoplifting is the theft of merchandise from a store or business establishment. This is normally done for financial gain or individual need.

Woman inside a fitting room stealing a dress, kleptomania vs shoplifting

If an individual is a kleptomaniac, they are stealing or shoplifting things that are meaningless, this is not planned, and this is done to satisfy an intense urge to steal.

What Differs From a Shoplifter and Kleptomaniac?

A shoplifter takes things because they want them or needs them.  A kleptomaniac steals for the feeling, not the object.  They steal things to satisfy an urge. So a shoplifter steals for want of the object, while a kleptomaniac steals for the feeling of stealing.

Case Example of a Kleptomaniac

An adult female tells a therapist that she has been experiencing specific urges throughout her entire life, and she expresses that she has experienced all of the criteria for kleptomania. She is financially able to afford the objects that she stole; however, she states that she felt positive and got a “rush” when she stole objects. She reported that she would feel guilty after the fact and many times she would give away the objects that she stole or gave them to the thrift stores.

She was referred to outpatient counseling due to being arrested for stealing. She was ashamed of her behaviors and throughout counseling, it was found that she started this due to past trauma in childhood and also a problematic and abusive marriage. Using Cognitive Behavior Therapy, behavior modification techniques, and insight-oriented therapy, she was able to reduce her compulsions and overcome the disorder.

Kleptomania In Adults and Children: Which is More Common?

The onset of this disorder normally begins during adolescence. However, treatment does not normally begin until adulthood with the average age of women 35 and the of men 50.

Living with Kleptomania:  What are the Complications/Risk Factors?     

If an employee steals from their job, they run a risk of getting terminated and cannot obtain further employment.

If they steal from a friend or family they may lose the trust of this person and it could damage the relationship.

If they steal and get caught they could end up in jail, and this will cause many other deterrents throughout life. So continuing this disorder without treatment could result in a lack of healthy relationships, stable employment, and also a clean criminal background.

Kleptomania Leave Policies

There are no documented distinct leave policies for this disorder. Normally individuals are seeking treatment after they have been arrested so the leave may be due to a legal issue resulting from the disorder.

Kleptomania Treatment

This disorder is normally only treated if there is a legal mandate due to repeated shoplifting.  Many individuals do not get treatment due to shame due to the disorder, never getting held accountable for his or her actions, or not feeling that it is an issue that needs to be addressed.

So what does an individual experiencing Kleptomania need to do?

The first thing an individual should do is recognize the symptoms. Do you have the desire to steal things that you do not need for an urge to steal? If you are experiencing these symptoms you may benefit from counseling services. 

Possible Medications for Kleptomania

Many different medication regimens could be effective when treating this disorder. Some of these medications are anti-depressants, anti-seizure medications, mood stabilizers, or addiction medications. It is important that a person complies with the medication regimen given to them by their prescriber and also follows the directives that were given to them during his or her course of treatment.

Home Remedies to Help You or Someone You Know

If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, you can work to understand you deserve help, becoming more open to assistance and support is important. You can become more aware of your behaviors and define your stealing behaviors. Ask yourself, is there a pattern?

You can work on writing out your feelings. You may not be open to expressing them yet so writing them can help you to become more comfortable to open up.

Insurance Coverage for This Impulse Control Disorder

Many insurance companies will cover mental health services for impulse control disorder. You can reach out to your insurance provider to determine what types of counseling would be covered. If you find that you can receive outpatient services, seeking a provider that specializes in cognitive behavior therapy and behavior modification can assist you in the reduction of this disorder. Individual counseling, family counseling, and group counseling can be effective techniques when addressing Kleptomania.

If your insurance does not cover this disorder reach out to your employer to see if they have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that is offered to their employees.  Many employers offer this assistance to employers on top of insurance coverage.

How to Find a Therapist?

Therapist listening to a patient with kleptomania inside an office

There are many local resources to find counseling. Psychology Today has a list of providers in local areas and also identifies the modalities of the providers. Your insurance company can also give you a list of providers that they cover and this can help you to find a counselor in your area.

 What Should I be Looking for in an LMHP?

Looking for a counselor with experience with cognitive behavioral therapy, behavior modification, and addictions would be a good place to start. These treatment modalities work effectively when treating impulse control disorders.

Questions to ask for Potential Therapist?

  1. Do you have experience treating impulse control disorders?
  2. Do you utilize homework and assist in the development of interventions to reduce the urges?

Support Helpline for Kleptomaniacs

There are many local support groups for addictions.  One online resource is and their number is 800-454-6704.

Kleptomania only becomes an issue after an individual gets caught for stealing. If you feel that you are struggling with this, get assistance before it is too late.  Some of the common feelings present by a kleptomaniac are guilt and shame.

Counseling or psychotherapy is a place of safety and support, not judgment and ridicule. Do not let your guilt and shame hold you back from positive change. It is better to ask for help and seek assistance instead of begging for forgiveness after getting arrested for shoplifting.

About the Author:

Jennifer Reynolds is a Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor in the state of Alabama and Licensed Mental Health Counselor in the state of Delaware.   She has over 10 years experience in counseling, advocacy, and consultation.  She works actively to reduce the negative stigma of mental illness and work to increase the implementation of effective counseling services to all populations.  She specializes in emotional support animal assessments, distance counseling, impulse control disorders, mood disorders, trauma (victim and perpetrator standpoints), anxiety, depression, and healthy lifestyle changes.  You can connect with Jennifer on Linkedin.

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