Desmond Kaplan MD FAPA

Child, Adolescent & Adult Psychiatry

1777 Reisterstown Road, Suite 50
 Baltimore, MD 21208


Kleptomania is an impulse control disorder that involves an uncontrollable urge to steal. People with kleptomania usually steal items that they do not need and are of little value. They know that what they are doing is wrong, but cannot resist the urge to do it. Kleptomaniacs often experience uncomfortable feelings of anxiety and tension that can only be relieved by stealing. They then feel pleasure and relief while stealing, and then guilt and shame afterwards. They often also feel remorse and fear of arrest, but the urge to steal is so strong, it often returns and the kleptomania cycle begins again.

Causes of Kleptomania

The exact cause of kleptomania is not known, but one theory suggests it may be linked to the release of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a natural chemical released within the brain that helps regulate moods and emotions. Low levels of serotonin are common in people prone to impulsive behaviors such as kleptomania. Kleptomania also may be related to addictive disorders, which cause people to engage in behaviors over and over,even if the behavior is harmful. Women are more likely than men to develop kleptomania and it often begins during adolescence or in young adulthood. Risk factors for developing kleptomania may include:

  • Mental illness
  • Family history
  • Head or brain trauma

Treatment of Kleptomania

Many people do not seek treatment for kleptomania out of embarrassment or fear of being arrested, but getting help is important. Treatment options for kleptomania may include medication and psychotherapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps the individual to identify unhealthy, negative beliefs and behaviors and replace them with healthy, positive ones. Cognitive behavioral therapy may also include techniques to help overcome kleptomania urges. Medication may help individuals with kleptomania who may also be suffering from other mental health disorders such as as depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Support groups and twelve-step programs may also be effective in treating kleptomania.

Left untreated, kleptomania can result in severe emotional, legal and financial problems.

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