Kleptomania symptoms may include:

  • Powerful urges to steal items that you don't need
  • Feeling increased tension leading up to the theft
  • Feeling pleasure or gratification while stealing
  • Feeling terrible guilt or shame after the theft

A powerful urge

Unlike typical shoplifters, people with kleptomania don't compulsively steal for personal gain. Nor do they steal as a way to exact revenge. They steal simply because the urge is so powerful that they can't resist it. This urge makes them feel uncomfortably anxious, tense or aroused. To soothe these feelings, they steal.

During the theft, they feel relief and gratification. Afterward, though, they may feel enormous guilt, remorse, self-loathing and fear of arrest. But the urge comes back, and the kleptomania cycle repeats itself.

Spontaneous occurrences and public places
Episodes of kleptomania generally occur spontaneously, without planning. Most people with kleptomania steal from public places, such as stores and supermarkets. Some may steal from friends or acquaintances, such as at a party. Often, the stolen items have no value to the person with kleptomania. The stolen items are usually stashed away, never to be used. Items may also be donated, given away to family or friends, or even secretly returned to the place from which they were stolen.

When to see a doctor

If you can't stop shoplifting or stealing, seek medical advice. Many people who may have kleptomania don't want to seek treatment because they're afraid they'll be arrested or jailed. A mental health provider doesn't have to report your thefts to authorities, however. Getting treatment may help you gain control over your kleptomania.

If a loved one has kleptomania

If you suspect a close friend or family member may have kleptomania, gently raise your concerns with your loved one. Keep in mind that kleptomania is a mental health condition, not a character flaw, and approach your loved one without blame or accusation.

It may be helpful to emphasize the following points:

  • You're concerned because you care about your loved one's health and well-being.
  • You're worried about the risks of compulsive stealing, such as being arrested, losing a job or damaging a valued relationship.
  • You understand that, with kleptomania, the urge to steal may be too strong to resist just by "putting your mind to it."
  • Effective treatments are available to minimize the urge to steal and help your loved one live without addiction and shame.

If you need help preparing for this conversation, talk with your doctor. He or she may refer you to a mental health provider who can help you plan a way of raising your concerns without making your loved one feel defensive or threatened.

Oct. 05, 2011

You Are ... The Campaign for Mayo Clinic

Mayo Clinic is a not-for-profit organization. Make a difference today.