Kleptomania is a rare mental disorder that occurs in .3–.6% of the population. It is characterized by the recurrent inability to resist urges to steal unneeded items that may be of small monetary value.
This disorder is attributed to poor behavioral and emotional self-control. People with this condition display long-term failure to control behavior that violates the rights of others.
There may be a direct connection between kleptomania and substance use disorder. In fact, it has been argued that kleptomania might be more appropriately classified as an addictive disorder.
When kleptomania and substance abuse occur together, dual diagnosis treatment is recommended to treat the underlying factors of both disorders.
What Is Kleptomania?
Kleptomania is an impulse control disorder characterized by problems with emotional and behavioral control.
People with impulse control disorders have difficulty resisting temptations or impulses to act in a way that’s harmful to themselves or others.
Many individuals with kleptomania report frequent urges to steal that result in theft at least two times per week, on average.
This condition may cause extreme distress, shame, and problems in relationships for affected individuals. People with the condition may be afraid or ashamed to seek mental health treatment.
Diagnosis of kleptomania requires an evaluation from a trained health professional.
Symptoms of the condition include:
- the inability to resist strong urges to steal unneeded items
- escalating tension, anxiety, or arousal before theft
- pleasure, relief, or gratification while stealing
- guilt, remorse, shame, and fear after theft
- recurring urges that lead to repetition of theft
People diagnosed with kleptomania may feel strong urges to steal followed by intense guilt, remorse, and self-loathing after committing the crime.
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People with kleptomania often recognize their disorder but struggle to pursue necessary medical treatment out of shame and fear of consequences.
Additional characteristics of kleptomania include:
- theft due to compulsion, rather than personal gain, revenge, or rebellion
- spontaneous episodes of theft without planning or collaboration with others
- theft from public places, social gatherings, or from friends or acquaintances
- theft of items of low monetary value
- stolen items may be stashed, never used, donated, gifted, or secretly returned to the place from which they were stolen
- reoccurring urges to steal with fluctuating intensity over time
The cause of kleptomania is currently unknown.
However, research suggests that changes in the brain, and regulation of pleasure and reward centers of the brain, may be at the root of the disorder.
How Common Is Co-Occurring Kleptomania And Addiction?
People who have kleptomania often have co-occurring disorders such as substance use disorder, personality disorder, and other mental illnesses.
At least 1.2 million Americans have kleptomania. It is estimated that up to 23% to 50% of individuals with kleptomania also have a substance use disorder.
The disorder commonly develops during young adulthood. Two-thirds of individuals diagnosed with the condition are women.
People with kleptomania may abuse drugs and alcohol to treat underlying symptoms of mental illness, or negative emotions surrounding the compulsive need to steal.
Why Do People With Kleptomania Turn To Drugs And Alcohol?
Kleptomania often disrupts an individual’s personal life and leads to substance abuse. Both disorders can involve compulsions and desires to seek pleasure with a complete disregard for the safety and wellbeing of others.
People with impulse control disorders often struggle to establish relationships and healthy boundaries. Fear of discovery may drive them to hide their disorder from others from fear of exposure.
Individuals with kleptomania may turn to drugs and alcohol to treat underlying symptoms of mental illness or to cope with negative emotions associated with impulse control disorder.
Unfortunately, substance abuse often exacerbates symptoms of mental illness and impulse control disorder and may lead to symptoms of anxiety and depression.
A person with kleptomania may abuse drugs and alcohol to:
- treat symptoms of impulse control disorder
- treat symptoms of anxiety and depression
- reduce feelings of guilt and self-loathing associated with theft
When an individual has both kleptomania and a drug or alcohol addiction, risks are high for disruption in one’s personal life, legal problems, and experiencing adverse side effects.
Diagnosing Kleptomania And Addiction
People who have a first-degree relative, such as a parent or sibling, with kleptomania or a substance use disorder are at increased risk of developing the disorder.
Further, a family history of mental illness or suffering with mental illness, such as bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, substance abuse, or a personality disorder puts an individual at increased risk of developing kleptomania.
Diagnosing substance abuse and kleptomania is based on:
- evaluation of an individual’s family history
- evaluation of medical history
- presence of mental illness
- other presenting symptoms and personal characteristics
Treatment For Co-Occurring Kleptomania And Substance Abuse
Treatment for substance abuse and kleptomania often involves similar treatments and medications.
Medications used to treat drug addictions may also be effective at reducing impulsive symptoms associated with kleptomania.
Generally, an integrated approach during dual diagnosis treatment involves various therapies to treat both disorders.
Treatment may include group therapy, medication, detoxification, counseling, and behavioral therapies that reinforce a healthy lifestyle, sobriety, and impulse control.
Dual diagnosis treatment may include:
- medically assisted detoxification
- behavioral therapy
- exposure therapy
- family therapy and counseling
Treatment recovery rates are higher when treating both kleptomania and substance abuse simultaneously.
Dual Diagnosis Treatment For Kleptomania And Addiction
Mental health disorders, impulse control disorders, and substance abuse often result in feelings of fear, guilt, isolation, and reduced self-esteem.
People with both kleptomania and addiction may resist getting help, as it involves personal disclosure.
Treatment for these disorders is available on both an inpatient and outpatient basis. Rehabilitation centers are equipped to provide necessary services to individuals who struggle with these co-occurring disorders.
Assistance for finding local treatment centers that offer dual diagnosis treatment is available.
Dual diagnosis treatment is offered by:
- local treatment centers
- individual medical providers
- residential rehabilitation centers
If you or someone you love has kleptomania or a substance use disorder, or you want to learn more about dual diagnosis treatment, please contact our helpline today.
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These include peer-reviewed journals, government entities and academic institutions, and leaders in addiction healthcare and advocacy. Learn more about how we safeguard our content by viewing our editorial policy.
- Mayo Clinic — Kleptomania
- National Institute of Biotechnology Information — Kleptomania and Co-morbid addictive disorders
- National Institute of Biotechnology Information — Kleptomania: clinical characteristics and relationship to substance use disorders