Impulse Control Disorder: Do I Have Kleptomania?

Kleptomania is a mental health disorder that can affect people of all ages. The disorder is associated with having poor impulse control with uncontrollable urges to impulsively steal. It is hard to know how many actually suffer from this disorder due to the guilt and shame associated with the illness. Kleptomania is treatable and anyone suffering with the disorder can get help through psychotherapy.

Kleptomania: What Does It Mean?

Kleptomania is a rare mental health disorder. A kleptomaniac has an uncontrollable urge to steal.  The difference between shoplifting and kleptomania is that a person who has kleptomania is stealing items for the sake of stealing not because they actually need or want the items.  People who shoplift often collaborate with others and have previously planned the act.

With kleptomania, the act is never planned and the person will act alone without collaborating with others. A kleptomaniac will steal items that have little to no use to them.  The person steals the item because they feel they must give in to the desire to steal and are unable to resist the urge to do so.

Impulse Control

Kleptomania is a form of impulse control disorder. Impulse control disorders include disorders involving problems with self-control of emotions and behaviors. Typically the impulsive acts violate the rights of others. People who suffer from impulse control disorders are unable to resist the urge to act on their impulses with negative behaviors.

Stats: How Many Suffer from this Disorder?

Kleptomania is considered a rare disorder noted to affect less than 1% of people. It is more common in females than males. In shoplifting arrest cases only about 4-24% of shoplifters are thought to be considered kleptomaniacs. This disorder typically presents itself in adolescent years and can last throughout adulthood if treatment is not sought out.

What Causes Kleptomania?

There is no known cause of kleptomania. There are some common traits seen with people who have the disorder. There does appear to be a link between lower levels of serotonin and people who have impulsive behaviors. The act of stealing can cause what people sometimes refer to as an “adrenaline rush” which causes a pleasurable feeling and may cause people to seek this “rush”.

People who are diagnosed with kleptomania may have additional co-occurring mental health diagnoses such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse or eating disorders.

Signs and Symptoms of Kleptomania

  • Recurring and uncontrollable urge to steal
  • Excitement or an “adrenaline rush” related to the act
  • Guilty feelings after the act is completed
  • Stealing something that has no value to the individual

What are the Common Behaviors/Characteristics?

A kleptomaniac commonly steals items that they can afford to buy on their own, unlike a shoplifter who steals items they want or need. The act of stealing is not premeditated and is done strictly out of impulse because they cannot resist the urge to do so. The urge to steal tends to fluctuate over time with greater intensity at some points and less at others. The person may even look to give the stolen items away or return them to place they took them from.

Testing: What are the Diagnostic Criteria Per the DSM 5?

  • Recurrent failure to resist impulses to steal objects that are not needed for personal use or for the monetary value.
  • Increasing sense of tension immediately before committing the theft
  • 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
  • The stealing is not better explained by conduct disorder, a manic episode, or antisocial personality disorder.

Kleptomania and Other Conditions

Kleptomania is considered an impulse control disorder and it can also be related to other mental health conditions. It is common for a kleptomaniac to have additional mental health disorders.  There does appear to be a link with obsessive-compulsive disorder and substance abuse disorders in those with kleptomania.

Kleptomania vs Theft and Other Crime

Kleptomania differs from theft and other crime as a kleptomaniac does not steal desired items and they usually hold no value to the person. A kleptomaniac commits the act of stealing alone and does not collaborate with others. With kleptomania the person often looks to return the items or give them away to others.

Kleptomania vs Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder versus kleptomania which is an impulse control disorder. A person with Bipolar disorder would have symptoms associated with mood fluctuations that include very high highs and very low lows.

Kleptomania vs Antisocial Personality Disorder

Antisocial personality disorder is a disorder where the person treats others harshly, is manipulative, and can violate the law or cause harm to others with little or no remorse for their actions.

Related Conditions

Other impulse control disorders that are related to kleptomania are gambling addictions, eating disorders, shopping addictions, and substance abuse disorders.

Kleptomania In Adults/Children

Kleptomania’s onset is typically seen in adolescent years. The disorder may begin at any age, childhood, adolescence, or adulthood. Kleptomania involves secrecy and shame and therefore people with this diagnosis tend to avoid seeking help until they are much older and their guilt or consequences for their actions causes them to finally do so. There are some theories that suggest the urge to steal may decrease as the person gets older.

Example Case of Kleptomania

The disorder of kleptomania does not discriminate and may affect those you least expect. There are multiple cases of famous people who are thought be kleptomaniacs. Some include Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, and even Farrah Fawcett.

The most commonly known case may be that of Winona Ryder when she was caught on camera stealing from Saks Fifth Ave. Winona is a famous actress and has enough money to afford the items she stole, yet was unable to control her impulse and stole the items simply because she could not resist the urge. Her symptoms and behaviors do meet criteria for a kleptomania diagnosis.

How to Deal/Coping With Kleptomania

In order to deal with kleptomania, the person must be in a place where they are ready to admit they have a problem that needs to be addressed. Once it is recognized that their impulsive behavior to steal is a problem, help should be sought out as soon as possible. Through therapy the person will learn how to deal and cope with the disorder as well as avoid places and situations that may trigger the impulsive behavior.

Look out for These Complications/Risk Factors

Since Kleptomania is a rare disorder it is often times not diagnosed and simply seen as shoplifting. Many kleptomaniacs will be arrested and have criminal repercussions several times without knowing they have a mental health disorder.  Potential risk factors may include a family history of impulsive disorders, OCD, or substance use disorder. If the person does not receive treatment, complications may include legal, family, career and personal difficulties.

Kleptomania Treatment

The main treatment for kleptomania is psychotherapy. A modality that is typically used to treat impulse control disorders such as kleptomania is cognitive behavioral therapy known as CBT. The goal is to understand the negative behavior and look for ways to replace it with positive behaviors. With a kleptomaniac the therapist would work with the client on understanding why they are acting on the negative impulse and what positive behavior or response they can utilize instead of stealing. The therapist will also rule out any possible additional mental health diagnosis. If there is another diagnosis involved, it will be treated as well.

Possible Medications for Kleptomania

Medication may be considered if therapy alone is not successful.  Psychotropic medications may be used such as antidepressants or a combination of medications depending on the symptoms of the person. Although there is no drug that is specifically FDA approved for treatment of kleptomania, one that is being considered for treatment of kleptomania is naltrexone. Naltrexone is used with substance dependence clients to help control urges to drink or use opiates. It is thought that naltrexone may additionally be able to help control the impulsive behavior connected to stealing.

Home Remedies to help Kleptomania

If you believe you have Kleptomania the best course of treatment is to seek professional medical help from licensed clinicians. Through therapy, you can gain different coping skills and techniques to use at home to better control your impulsive behavior. A treatment plan will be developed with your clinician. If prescribed medication, make sure to take it as directed.

Also, utilize calming techniques and coping skills learned through therapy. Learning more about the illness yourself and what the common risks/symptoms are may help you better understand how you may be triggered. If you do have a co-occurring illness make sure you receive treatment for all of your diagnoses not just kleptomania. Find healthy ways to replace your negative reactions to impulse with positive reactions, such as exercise.

Insurance Coverage for Kleptomania

Since kleptomania is considered a mental health disorder most insurance plans will cover individual therapy and medication management to help treat the illness. Routine outpatient mental health treatment is covered by a majority of health plans and usually only require a specialist copay. For more information contact your health insurance provider for specific information related to mental health coverage for your plan.

How to Find a Therapist

If you are ready to seek out help for your kleptomania and are looking for a therapist, you can start by contacting your insurance company and asking for a list of mental health providers in your area. You can also speak with your general practitioner to ask for referrals. Word of mouth and searching on the internet is another great way to find a therapist.

What Should I be Looking for in a LMHP?

When looking for a LMHP, once you receive referrals from whichever source you choose it’s always beneficial to do further research. You may want to look the LMHP up on the internet to check their reviews and see how other clients have rated their experiences with them. Also see if the provider has their own website that may further explain their specialties of what they treat and the extent of their experience. You will want to find a LMHP that you can relate to and feel comfortable with as you will be discussing very personal information with them.

Questions to Ask a Potential Therapist

  • Do you have experience treating impulse control disorders or more specifically kleptomania?
  • What type of modalities do you use in your therapy?
  • What type of therapy would you use to treat kleptomania?
  • What is your availability and does it match with mine?
  • Do you prescribe medication or would I need to find a separate provider if I additionally need medications?

Living with Kleptomania

If you are a person living with kleptomania know that there is help available and people are successful when they seek help. Due to the shame and guilt associated with the disorder it is very difficult and rare for the person to actually seek help. If treatment is not sought the person will likely experience a poor quality of life. It can be expected that the person will have difficulty building positive social relationship as well as having difficulty with employment due to criminal repercussions.  A person should seek out treatment as soon as they are able to so they may improve their quality of life.

Kleptomania Resources and Support Helpline

If you or someone you know is suffering with Kleptomania or any mental illness please utilize the following free helplines. These helplines can provide and connect you with resources and additional assistance:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Crisis Text Line: Text “home” to 741741

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI (6264)

Resources

  1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/kleptomania/symptoms-causes/syc-20364732
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3225132/
  3. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9878-kleptomania
  4. https://www.mentalhelp.net/articles/mental-health-hotline/
  5. https://medium.com/@wadeweesner/5-celebs-who-suffered-from-kleptomania-102bc5b60ba7
  6. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing
author avatar
Angel Rivera
I am a Bilingual (Spanish) Psychiatrist with a mixture of strong clinical skills including Emergency Psychiatry, Consultation Liaison, Forensic Psychiatry, Telepsychiatry and Geriatric Psychiatry training in treatment of the elderly. I have training in EMR records thus very comfortable in working with computers. I served the difficult to treat patients in challenging environments in outpatient and inpatient settings
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