Kleptomania involves a compulsion to steal things. Usually the stolen items are worth little or no money, and often they’re things the individual has the money to purchase on their own. The motivation is almost never need or necessity. Instead, kleptomania is a compulsion that begins with a growing sense of tension. The only way to alleviate it is by stealing, which provides deep gratification. However, that relief is short-lived and quickly turns to embarrassment or shame.
Those with kleptomania may try to resist the urge to steal, but fail — even when they stand a high chance of getting caught, such as at retail stores with security measures.
Kleptomania is often described as an impulse control disorder. Often, the urge to steal is spontaneous and opportunistic, such as at a store or at someone’s home. Rarely do those with kleptomania plan their thefts in advance, which is markedly different from those who steal because they need or want something they can’t afford. In fact, many people with kleptomania hide the stolen items and never use or look at them again. Others give them away to friends or family, while some may even seek to return the items they have taken.
Kleptomania is fairly rare and is thought to affect 0.3 to 0.6 percent of the population. In other words, an estimated 6 out of every 1000 adults have this condition. Approximately 5 percent of all shoplifting stems from kleptomania.
It’s important to know: Kleptomania is more than just shoplifting. Usually, shoplifters seek to steal things they cannot afford — either to sell or to use personally. They also plan their thefts in advance. Kleptomania, however, involves a sense of tension that comes on spontaneously; relief comes only from the act of stealing.
The primary sign of kleptomania involves getting caught stealing repeatedly. The individual may also have a “stash” of stolen items that lack value or any obvious connection. Nevertheless, it can lead to significant legal problems over time. Kleptomania often involves co-occurring mental health conditions, including substance use disorder as well as anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), bipolar disorder, impulse control disorders, and eating disorders. In fact, many experts believe that kleptomania and substance abuse share a genetic component, which may require addiction treatment.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has shown considerable success in treating kleptomania and helping people with the condition overcome the desire to steal. In addition to therapy, medication such as antidepressants also help alleviate the tension that comes with the urge to steal. Also, Harbor Village’s wellness program includes meditation and mindfulness tools that can be especially useful for people struggling with kleptomania and addiction.