Cleptomania: symptoms, causes and treatment

One of the characteristics of psychological disorders is that their existence does not depend on ethical codes: they exist independently of these.

The case of kleptomania One example is that it is a behavioral disorder based on the act of stealing, and it occurs in people who know full well that stealing is not good, but that they can hardly control themselves.

In this article, we will look at what kleptomania is and what are the characteristics of this impulse regulation disorder, how it affects people’s lives, their symptoms, and possible treatments.

    Kleptomania as a disorder

    Theft is a crime which is usually committed willfully and fully consciously, and its main purpose is to take possession of the good or product in order to use it or gain some economic advantage.

    However, there are people who do not commit thefts for this reason and may even end up returning the stolen ones, as what leads them to thefts is the need to relieve tension and lose control over their impulses. This is people with kleptomania.

    Kleptomania is a psychological disorder or psychiatric disorder, which is characterized by the existence of a strong urge to steal objects that the subject is unable to resist. Or, rather, it is based on the urge to put the products on sale and take them away without paying, because it can be argued that the attraction of this action is the breaking of private property.

    These impulses, which the subject cannot control, lead him to regularly commit petty thefts, even if the object in question is not worth him and cannot derive any benefit from it. The person in question experiences great tension and anxiety before the crime, a feeling that he manages to relieve in a pleasant way after being able to commit the theft.


    Theft one it is not a premeditated or pre-planned act, But occurs as a reaction to tension or as an emotional discharge to calm your urges. It is an almost automatic and partially involuntary act that arises out of necessity, in the here and now.

    The motive for theft is therefore not cheap, nor is it executed for revenge or to express anger. It is also not a way to rebel against society and norms, as a person with antisocial disorders might do, nor a response to a delusional idea or hallucination. Nor is it the product of a disturbance of consciousness such as that which would result in drug use or the presence of a manic episode.

    And does kleptomania this is one of the so-called impulse control disorders (Now Destructive Impulse and Behavior Control Disorders), a group to which both this disorder and pyromania or intermittent explosive disorder belong, among others, and which are characterized by difficulty in controlling impulses, emotions and desires. they appear suddenly and irresistibly, without any other cognitive or psychiatric alteration.

    Theft becomes a compulsive act, acquiring addictive characteristics and at the same time resembling obsessive-compulsive disorder in its functioning.

    Course and epidemiology

    Kleptomania is a rare disease and accounts for less than 5% of thefts that take place. This condition can appear at very different ages, Including childhood or adolescence and in a few cases into adulthood. It is more common in young women. In some cases it will recover on its own, although it sometimes reappears in response to stressful situations or persists for years (although with treatment the prognosis is very favorable).

    Some diagnostic classifications such as ICD indicate that at least two or three episodes must have occurred to be diagnosed.

    It is important to mention that although the theft cannot be explained by other disorders, it is common for there to be co-morbidity with other alterations (This kleptomania and another disorder occur together). Some of the most common include alcoholism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, major depression, or eating disorders.

    Assignment in daily life

    The kleptomaniac may feel guilty for his act and is generally aware that he is committing theft, but he is unable to resist the taking of the property in question. In fact, it is not uncommon for the item in question to be returned once stolen in the establishment or the owner (usually discreetly, sometimes with notes of apology), or are hidden or gifted. It is not uncommon for symptoms such as embarrassment and remorse to appear, which can affect the subject’s daily life.

    Furthermore it may be common for them to be caught red-handed and have problems with the law, In such a way that they may end up being sentenced to jail. It can also lead to social problems, to the point of having interpersonal conflicts and even being rejected by their environment, or having difficulties at work.

    Lack of control over impulses can lead the subject to feel little sense of self-efficacy, which in turn can lead to a feeling of little control over their life and ultimately to the emergence of mood problems. ‘Anim. They can also generate conduits for the accumulation of stolen objects.

    Possible causes of its occurrence

    The exact causes of the onset of kleptomania are not known, although there are different hypotheses that seek to offer an explanation possible to the cause of this pathology (most coming from the psychodynamic current).

    In the psychodynamic orientation, kleptomaniac flight has been interpreted as a symptom of an intrapsychic conflict, in which the subject can use the act of stealing as a means of obtaining pleasure by performing an act. Prohibited, as a defense of the ego against anxiety or as an act in which one reacts unconsciously to the lack of deprivation of affection in childhood.

    They were observed as possible risk factors the presence of a cranioencephalic trauma (which may have damaged the frontal and behavioral inhibitory capacity), alterations in dopaminergic, serotonergic or endogenous opioid neurotransmission. In addition to this, there may be some sort of biological predisposition or learning parenting patterns, as it has been observed that people with kleptomania tend to have a higher statistical likelihood of having a family history of the disorder. obsessive compulsive.

    In addition, it has also been observed that personality structures close to paranoid, schizoid and borderline personality disorder also imply an increased risk of occurrence.

    The most relevant personality characteristic of this image is in the presence of high impulsivity. These are usually people with great intensity in their fantasies and desires, in some cases with less tolerance for delay in gratification and great sensitivity to price and anxiety. There is also often a link with mood swings.

    It could also be suggested that in this disorder, a system similar to that which occurs in addictions appears, and a possible involvement of the nucleus accumbens and the brain reward system has been suggested, influencing impulses and motivation. T

    it has also been linked to obsessive-compulsive disorder, in which the anxiety experienced is temporarily relieved by the commission of the crime but, in the long run, is negatively reinforced by it. In fact, it has been suggested that it could be an impulsive variant of this it could be classified as obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorder.


    Kleptomania is a condition that requires treatment. In this way there are many types of therapy and intervention available, both psychologically and pharmacologically (While a combination of the two is generally used).

    Among the different therapies at the psychological level, we can find in the first place systematic desensitization, In which the subject is exposed to anxious situations in order to cope with them by leading behaviors incompatible with anxiety, or by adopting behaviors alternative to flying. Another alternative is exposure with prevention to respond.

    Psychoeducation is also useful both for the subject and for his environment, given the lack of social understanding of this disorder. Procedures such as acceptance and commitment therapy have also been found to be effective.

    Pharmacologically, they have been considered effective antidepressant drugs such as SSRIs (Which in turn are used in both depression and OCD), especially some such as fluoxetine or fluvoxamine. While these are the drugs of choice, mood stabilizers, anticonvulsants, or even effective alcohol drugs such as naltrexone have also been used to treat kleptomania and have had some success.

    Bibliographical references:

    • American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Fifth edition. DSM-5. Masson, Barcelona.
    • Dannon, P. and Berman, G. (2013) Cleptomania: an impulse control disorder or addictive behavior. Health and Science 19 (6): 540-5.
    • Fontenelle, LF; Mendlowicz, MV; Versiani, M. (2005). “Impulse Control Disorders in Patients with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.” Psychiatry and clinical neuroscience. 59 (1): 30-37.
    • Madden, GJ; Bickel, WK (2010). Impulsivity: behavioral science and discount neurology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
    • Grant, JE; Kim, SW (2002). “Clinical features and associated psychopathology of 22 patients with kleptomania.” Integral psychiatry. 43 (5): 378-84.
    • Sants, JL; Garcia, LI; Calderon, MA; Sanz, LJ; of rivers, P .; Left, S .; Román, P .; Hernangómez, L .; Navas, E .; Thief, A; and Álvarez-Cienfuegos, L. (2012). Clinical Psychology. CEDE PIR preparation manual, 02. CEDE. Madrid

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