Health A-Z


Clinical Definition

Kleptomania is an impulse control disorder, still poorly understood, characterized by repeated failures to resist the impulse to steal. Once taken, the objects may be stored, given away or discarded.  A sense of tension precedes the behavior, followed by a sense of gratification. Kleptomania has been viewed from a psychodynamic perspective, with psychotherapy and medication the standards of treatment; newer research views it within a neuropsychiatric paradigm, with psychiatric comorbidities common, such as mood disorders, addictive behaviors and brain injury.

In Our Own Words

Kleptomania, a disabling impulse control disorder, is marked by repetitive, uncontrollable theft of objects of little use to the one who steals. The condition generally begins in late teens and adulthood, and experts still have many questions about how and why it develops.  The behavior is preceded by a sense of tension, and then gratification once the theft is accomplished. After that, the kleptomaniac often stores, gives away or discards the stolen items. Those with the disorder often also have other mental health issues, such as mood disorders, other impulse control issues or substance abuse.

Psychotherapy, also called ”talk therapy,” may help, as can medical treatment with various drugs such as lithium, certain anti-epilepsy drugs and others.

Symptoms and Side Effects

  • Urge to steal unneeded items
  • Sense of tension before the behavior
  • Feeling of gratification after stealing
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