What Causes Kleptomania?

Reviewed on 2/2/2021

What causes kleptomania?

Kleptomania is an irresistible urge to steal. It is believed to be caused by genetics, neurotransmitter abnormalities and the presence of other psychiatric conditions.
Kleptomania is an irresistible urge to steal. It is believed to be caused by genetics, neurotransmitter abnormalities and the presence of other psychiatric conditions.

Kleptomania refers to an irresistible and recurring urge to steal in the absence of the need or inability to afford the stolen items. It is a rare and serious mental health condition. The actual cause of kleptomania is still being researched. The possible theories and causes may include

Blame it on neurotransmitters 

  • The problem may be linked to a brain chemical known as serotonin, which regulates the moods and emotions of an individual. It has been suggested that the symptoms of kleptomania may be due to low serotonin levels in the brain.
  • Most of the signals that our brain gives us for di?erent actions are regulated by an intricate network of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Any defect in this signaling can cause changes in personality and the reaction of the individual to simple situations.
  • Stealing may cause the release of dopamine (another neurotransmitter). Dopamine causes pleasurable feelings and some people seek this rewarding feeling again and again.

Existing psychiatric disorders

Genetics

  • Sometimes, kleptomania may also be more prevalent in a family with multiple members being a?ected with the condition. Brain disorders, such as dementia or epilepsy, and brain injury may also result in kleptomaniac tendencies.

Risk factors

  • This disorder usually begins in adolescence and is rarely seen in children.
  • Studies have shown that kleptomania is more common in women than men. Women in their late 30s with psychiatric disorders are more likely to develop this tendency.

What do you really mean by kleptomania?

Kleptomania is the inability to refrain from stealing. It is a common misconception that kleptomania is shoplifting. However, this perception is false. Yes, kleptomaniacs may be caught shoplifting, but not all shoplifters have kleptomania. Kleptomaniacs who shoplift do not do so to cause harm to themselves or others. It is classi?ed as a mental illness. When a kleptomaniac steals an item, they often report shame and regret after doing the deed. Because the items they steal have nothing to do with want or value, they often throw or give them away. The symptoms may include the following

  • A repeated inability to resist impulses to steal things that are of no personal value.
  • A feeling of relief, joy and/or pleasure when stealing things
  • Feeling of guilt or remorse after the event
  • Thefts that are not committed out of anger or for revenge or personal gain
  • Lack of a better explanation for the theft, such as another psychological disorder
  • Urges to return stolen items, followed by stealing them again
  • Irresistible urges to steal spontaneously

How is kleptomania different from shoplifting?

Kleptomania is different from shoplifting or ordinary theft, which is

  • Deliberate
  • Motivated by the stolen item’s usefulness or monetary value
  • The result of a dare, an act of rebellion, or a rite of passage.

A psychiatrist or psychologist will diagnose kleptomania when

  • All of the symptoms of kleptomania are present.
  • There is no other better explanation for repeated thefts.
  • Kleptomania is not an excuse for shoplifting or ordinary theft

What are the treatment options for kleptomania?

Treatment of kleptomania typically involves the following

Medications: There’s little scientific research about using psychiatric medications to treat kleptomania. There is no Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved medication for kleptomania. However, certain medications may help, depending on the situation and  other mental health disorders, such as depression or substance misuse.

Psychotherapy: A form of psychotherapy called cognitive behavioral therapy helps the person identify unhealthy, negative beliefs and behaviors and replace them with healthy, positive ones. Cognitive behavioral therapy may include these techniques to help the person control their kleptomania urges.

  • Covert sensitization, in which the person pictures themselves stealing and then facing negative consequences, such as being caught.
  • Aversion therapy, in which the person practices mildly painful techniques, such as holding their breath until they become uncomfortable when they get an urge to steal.
  • Systematic desensitization, in which a person practices relaxation techniques and pictures themselves controlling urges to steal.

Avoiding relapses: It’s not unusual to have relapses of kleptomania. 

  • To help avoid relapses, the person needs to be sure to stick to ther treatment plan. If they feel urges to steal, they should contact their mental health professional or reach out to a trusted person or support group.

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References
Medscape Medical Reference

Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience


The Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry


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