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Kleptomania is an impulse control disorder that includes the uncontrollable urge to steal items regardless of their monetary value or necessity. Although the condition is quite rare, kleptomaniacs genuinely struggle with the compelling impulse to commit theft. Luckily, there are several effective treatments available for kleptomaniacs. With the right therapy and medication, kleptomaniacs can live normal lives free of the anxiety, urges, and compulsions to steal.

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What Is Kleptomania?

Kleptomania is a serious mental health condition that causes an uncontrollable compulsion to steal items that don’t belong to the individual. The DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition) classifies kleptomania as one of five distinct impulse control disorders.

Other than kleptomania, the four other impulse control disorders include:

Kleptomania is relatively rare, only occurring in approximately 0.3%–0.6% of the general population. While most impulse control disorders tend to affect men more than women, kleptomania occurs three times more often in females.

Symptoms of Kleptomania

The primary symptom of kleptomania is the uncontrollable and recurring urge to steal. However, kleptomania has other symptoms as well.

Common symptoms of kleptomania include:

  • Feelings of increased tension or anxiety leading to stealing
  • Feelings of guilt, remorse, or shame after stealing
  • Feelings of relief or pleasure while stealing
  • Recurrent failure to avoid stealing
  • Unplanned stealing done spur-of-the-moment
  • Stolen items aren’t taken out of necessity or for their value—it’s only to resolve the tension before stealing or the high after stealing

Kleptomania and Addiction

Kleptomania and addiction have plenty of overlap in symptoms. Kleptomania is a common co-morbidity found in individuals with substance use disorder. Although kleptomania and addiction are their distinct diagnoses, they share many common features.

What Do Addicts and Kleptomaniacs Have in Common?

The most obvious common symptom between kleptomaniacs and addicts is compulsive stealing. While addicts may steal valuable things to obtain money to buy drugs, kleptomaniacs steal things of little value or purpose because they seek relief or the “rush” associated with stealing.

A recent study out of Japan revealed that when people with kleptomania were shown pictures of stores and store products, they exhibited similar brain activity to that of people with substance addictions exposed to images of drugs.

It’s believed that both conditions are strongly related to flooding the brain with the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine can cause feelings of pleasure and reward. Both substance abuse and kleptomania can cause the release of dopamine, which makes the individual feel good at the moment.

Is Kleptomania an Addiction?

Kleptomania is an impulse control disorder, not an addiction. However, Kleptomania may resemble shoplifting addiction, which is a behavioral addiction under the umbrella of shopping addiction. While kleptomania and shoplifting addiction are different conditions, they share many symptoms.

Shoplifting addiction occurs when an individual becomes dependent on the flood of dopamine caused by the repeated act of stealing. Kleptomaniacs may also experience a “high” from stealing, but the compulsion develops from an early age and does not develop as an addiction does.

Are People With Kleptomania More at Risk for Substance Use Disorder?

Yes. People with kleptomania often have other mental health conditions, including substance use disorder. Because co-morbid mental health disorders are so common, some kleptomaniacs will turn to substances to cope with their symptoms.

Causes of Kleptomania

The cause of kleptomania is not known. Some theories indicate that changes in brain chemistry could trigger the beginning of kleptomania, and repeated theft patterns reinforce the behavior over time.

Until further research can be conducted, current research suggests that the following factors may cause kleptomania:

  • Issues with serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with the regulation of mood
  • Issues with the brain’s opioid system, which regulates urges
  • Co-occurring addictive disorders

Kleptomania Risk Factors

There are several risk factors associated with the development of kleptomania. Individuals with a family history of impulse control disorders, addictive disorders, personality disorders, or other mental health conditions may be at higher risk of developing kleptomania.

In addition, individuals with pre-existing mental health issues are at risk for developing kleptomania.

Common co-occurring mental health conditions found among kleptomaniacs include:

Kleptomania Diagnosis and Treatment

Thankfully, there are treatments available for kleptomania, typically through cognitive behavioral therapy or similar therapies. If you suspect that you or a family member have kleptomania, you’ll want first to seek out a diagnosis from a mental health professional.

Once a diagnosis is obtained, your doctor or therapist can then recommend treatment options to address your or a loved one’s kleptomania.

How Is Kleptomania Diagnosed?

Kleptomania is typically diagnosed through a combination of tactics. First, your mental health provider will interview you to gather information about your family history, upbringing, and current symptoms.

Your provider may use diagnostic tools such as the K-SAS (Kleptomania Symptom Assessment Scale) or other assessment questionnaires. Once the interview and assessment are complete, your provider will compare your symptoms and assessment results to the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for kleptomania.

In some cases, healthcare providers may uncover co-occurring mental health conditions in addition to kleptomania. Your provider will include plans for the treatment of kleptomania, as well as for any co-occurring psychiatric disorders.

Effective Treatments for Kleptomania

Treating kleptomania alone is extremely difficult. However, working with a healthcare professional can give you access to psychotherapy and medications used to treat kleptomania effectively.

Opioid Antagonists

Drugs like naltrexone have been found to help treat kleptomania. Naltrexone is usually used in the treatment of opioid use disorder and works by blocking the euphoric effects of opioid drugs.

Kleptomania is believed to have some connection to the brain’s opioid system. Recent studies have shown that using naltrexone may prevent kleptomaniacs from experiencing the “high” of stealing just as it would block opioids from causing a “high.”

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)

SSRIs or antidepressants are a common medication used in the treatment of kleptomania, as well as the condition’s common comorbidities. Depression and anxiety are often symptoms of kleptomania, which antidepressants can address.


The most common types of therapy used in the treatment of kleptomania include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and aversion therapy. CBT helps kleptomaniacs through systematic desensitization and covert sensitization techniques.

These two techniques work in tandem by teaching relaxation tactics to control urges to steal (systematic desensitization) and imagining yourself facing negative consequences from stealing to help you avoid those behaviors (covert sensitization).

Aversion therapy is another type of therapy often used to treat kleptomania. The therapy works by using techniques like holding your breath until it becomes painful or thinking of something nauseating each time you feel the urge to steal.

Find Help for Managing Kleptomania

Kleptomania can be a complicated disorder to deal with, both for the kleptomaniac and their loved ones, due to the legal trouble the condition can cause. However, there are many treatment options available for those struggling with their compulsive urges to steal.

Talk to your doctor or therapist about your symptoms and see what treatment options best fit your needs. The sooner you seek treatment for kleptomania, the more hardships and legal issues you can avoid.

Use SAMHSA’s online treatment locator or call 1-800-662-4357 (HELP) to find mental health or kleptomania specialists available in your area.

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FAQs About Kleptomania

Is kleptomania a mental illness?

Yes. Kleptomania is classified as an impulse control disorder, which is a mental illness. Kleptomaniacs struggle to control the urge to steal and will feel pressure or anxiety leading up to their theft. Typically, they will steal to relieve this anxiety or to experience the rush of stealing.

Like with other mental illnesses, kleptomania is treatable through medications and therapy from a licensed mental health provider.

What is the difference between kleptomania and shoplifting?

There are many reasons someone may shoplift, whether it’s due to income inequality, falling into a life of crime, or due to mental illness. However, kleptomaniacs typically do not steal things of monetary value. Instead, they steal due to the compulsive urge to do so.

For some, the urge is connected to feelings of intense, almost painful pressure or the desire to feel the thrill of successfully stealing. Afterward, many kleptomaniacs will struggle with guilt or self-hatred due to their theft.

What treatments are available for kleptomania?

Common treatments for kleptomania include:

  • Opioid antagonists like Naltrexone
  • Antidepressants
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Aversion therapy

Can kleptomania be cured?

No. Like other mental illnesses, kleptomania can only be managed through therapy and medication. Kleptomaniacs must stay on top of their treatment to avoid falling back into the compulsion to steal.

How do I know if I have kleptomania?

If you suspect you have kleptomania, you can start by talking to your loved ones about your symptoms to see if they have noticed the same behaviors. Speaking with a doctor or therapist is the best next step to receiving treatment for your kleptomania.

It’s important to remember that shame or demonizing the condition will not help. While stealing is illegal and considered morally wrong, kleptomaniacs are not inherently bad people. Kleptomania is an impulse control disorder and is not the fault of the individual who has the condition.

However, seeking treatment is the right thing to do if you indeed have kleptomania.

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. is a founder of Addiction HelpReviewed by:Kent S. Hoffman, D.O.

Chief Medical Officer & Co-Founder

  • Fact-Checked
  • Editor

Kent S. Hoffman, D.O. has been an expert in addiction medicine for more than 15 years. In addition to managing a successful family medical practice, Dr. Hoffman is board certified in addiction medicine by the American Osteopathic Academy of Addiction Medicine (AOAAM). Dr. Hoffman has successfully treated hundreds of patients battling addiction. Dr. Hoffman is the Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer of and ensures the website’s medical content and messaging quality.

Jessica Miller is the Content Manager of Addiction HelpWritten by:

Editorial Director

Jessica Miller is the Editorial Director of Addiction Help. Jessica graduated from the University of South Florida (USF) with an English degree and combines her writing expertise and passion for helping others to deliver reliable information to those impacted by addiction. Informed by her personal journey to recovery and support of loved ones in sobriety, Jessica's empathetic and authentic approach resonates deeply with the Addiction Help community.

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