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One of the impulse control disorders, characterized by an overwhelming impulse to steal.

Persons with this disorder, popularly referred to as kleptomaniacs, experience a recurring urge to steal that they are unable to resist. They do not steal for the value of the item, for its use, or because they cannot afford the purchase. The individual knows that it is wrong to steal. Stolen items are often thrown or given away, secretly returned to the store from which they were taken, or hidden.

Persons with this disorder describe a feeling of tension prior to committing the theft, and a feeling of relief or pleasure while stealing the item.

Kleptomania is a rare disorder. It can begin at any age, and is reported to be more common among females. Kleptomania is different from deliberate theft or shoplifting, which is much more common; it is estimated that less than 5 percent of individuals who shoplift exhibit symptoms of kleptomania. Shoplifting often involves two or more individuals working together; among adolescents, peers sometimes challenge or dare each other to commit an act of shoplifting. Individuals with kleptomania are not influenced by peers, nor are they motivated by a need for the item stolen. This disorder may persist despite arrests for shoplifting; the individual is apparently not deterred by the consequences of stealing, but may feel guilty afterwards.

Further Reading

Morrison, James. DSM-IV Made Easy: The Clinician's Guide to Diagnosis. New York: The Guilford Press, 1995.

Additional topics

Psychology EncyclopediaDiseases, Disorders & Mental Conditions