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Kleptomania, Substance Abuse and Addiction

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

February 27, 2019

Kleptomania is a mental health disorder characterized by the theft of small objects. These actions can often lead to feelings of shame or guilt and may result in the development of a co-occurring disorder with addiction. Finding treatment for co-occurring disorders is the best way to prevent possible consequences of kleptomania and addiction.

Kleptomania, like many mental health disorders, can drive a person to do many things he or she would not otherwise do. The effects of kleptomania can be harsh, and may cause those affected to seek ways to cope. Abuse of drugs or alcohol, and the addiction that can follow, may worsen the symptoms of kleptomania. Though there is no simple cure for this disorder or for addiction, treatment can help people learn to manage their symptoms, reduce or get rid of urges, and live a fulfilled life.

What Is Kleptomania?

Kleptomania is a mental health disorder characterized by the continual and persistent urge to steal things. Often, the items stolen by a person with kleptomania hold little value to him or her, and are small in size or worth. The items are typically given away or thrown away shortly after being taken, but some people hoard or return the items as quietly as possible.

Mayo Clinic explains that this mental health condition is an impulse control disorder, which means that people who have it struggle with emotional and/or behavioral self-control. Further, stealing may produce feelings of pleasure, relief, or even satisfaction for those affected. People with this disorder may not commit acts of theft while authorities are nearby, but the acts are rarely planned.

Though kleptomania affects only a small percent of the population, according to Psychology Today, the repercussions of the disorder can be great. Many who have it may be undiagnosed due to shame, guilt, and fear of consequences. Because the disorder is characterized by repeated acts of theft, it can also lead to emotional pain or criminal trouble.

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What Causes Kleptomania?

There is no known cause for Kleptomania, and there is not enough research to delve further into possible causes. Some research suggests it could be linked to an imbalance in chemicals in the brain, such as serotonin, which helps regulate mood and behavior. Kleptomania may also be related to addiction.

Addiction is a disease which changes the way the brain responds to reward. When a person is addicted to something, the brain feels rewarded when it receives the substance and may respond by releasing dopamine. Dopamine is responsible for producing feelings of pleasure. If the act of stealing produces a feeling of pleasure, even a small one, then the brain becomes rewired to seek the source of that feeling again and again.

How Can Kleptomania Affect Your Life?

Without proper treatment, Kleptomania may lead to a number of emotional, personal, and social problems, such as:

  • Emotional complications: guilt, humiliation, self-loathing, shame
  • Family issues
  • Legal trouble: arrests, court issues, prison or jail time
  • Mental health issues: anxiety, depression, eating disorders
  • Poor school/work performance
  • Problems with finances
  • Substance abuse and addiction, which can worsen symptoms

The Toll Of Substance Abuse And Addiction

Substance abuse is an abuse of legal or illicit substances such as drugs, like prescription opioids or cocaine, or alcohol. Prolonged substance abuse can lead to addiction. The consequences of addiction can be endless when left untreated. Because addiction is a disease which affects the brain as well as the body, it can have drastic effects on health.

Possible health risks associated with substance abuse or addiction depend on a number of factors, including duration of abuse and the substance abused. Some of the harshest, long-term effects on health may include:

  • Behavioral issues
  • Cancer
  • Decision-making impairment
  • Infectious diseases
  • Judgment abilities impairment
  • Heart problems
  • Memory
  • Respiratory problems
  • Stress increase
  • Learning impairment
  • Liver damage or disease
  • Lung damage or disease
  • Stroke
  • Overdose, which can be fatal

Addiction may also take a toll on a person’s social and environmental situations. Much like kleptomania, substance abuse and addiction can affect a person’s:

  • Family
  • Finances
  • Personal relationships
  • Motivational level: lack of desire to participate
  • School involvement
  • A tendency to shirk obligations
  • Work performance
  • Responsibility involvement

Paired with a mental disorder, addiction can be even more dangerous. The symptoms of a mental health disorder (i.e. anxiety or depression) may cause a person to become addicted to drugs or alcohol—the drugs or alcohol may excite the symptoms of mental health disorder. In this way, having two disorders, or co-occurring disorders can make a person feel trapped by their own health issues. With both a mental health disorder like kleptomania and substance abuse or addiction, treatment may be the only way out, and can help you get there.

What Are The Risks Of Co-Occurring Disorders?

Co-occurring disorders are more common than you may think. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) explains, “people with mental health disorders are more likely than people without mental health disorders to experience an alcohol or substance use disorder.” It may be difficult to diagnose someone with more than one disorder due to the depth of symptoms of each disorder, which may vary in levels of severity.

It is important to assess, diagnose, and treat co-occurring disorders together so the symptoms of one do not exacerbate symptoms of the other. Without adequate treatment, co-occurring disorders can result in an increased risk of experiencing:

  • Homelessness
  • Incarceration
  • Medical issues
  • Suicide
  • Premature death

How Are Co-Occurring Disorders Treated?

The best type of treatment for co-occurring disorders is integrated treatment or treatment for both disorders at the same time. With this method, it is important that the individual receives both cares for symptoms of each disorder and ample support. Treatment for addiction may differ from treatment for mental health disorders like kleptomania, yet some of the approaches may overlap.

Effective treatment which may work to treat symptoms of a mental health condition and prolonged addiction may include behavioral therapy, which teaches a person to build positive lifestyle habits. Behavioral therapy may be paired with a 12-step support group or counseling, both of which aid a person in building self-esteem and focusing on healing mind, body, and spirit.

Addiction and mental health disorders are often characterized by, resulting in, or affected by low self-esteem, feelings of guilt or shame, and a desperate sense of isolation. Treatment provided at an inpatient rehab center surrounds addicted individuals with positive influences who have dealt with addiction personally or professionally. Inpatient rehab treatment can make the difference in recovery between getting treated and getting well.

How To Get Into Treatment

Kleptomania is one of many mental health disorders which can keep a person from getting necessary help due to feelings of isolation and shame. Add to this disorder the harsh effects of addiction, and finding the will to seek treatment becomes even harder. Don’t let co-occurring addiction and mental health issues keep you from getting the help you need. Contact us at today to learn more about kleptomania, substance abuse, and addiction.

Mayo Clinic - Kleptomania

National Institute On Drug Abuse - Drug Facts: Understanding Drug Use And Addiction

Psychology Today- - Kleptomania -

Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services Administration - Co-Occurring Disorders

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