Thou Shall Not Steal: Kleptomania And Psychiatry

Any form of stealing is a crime, may it be from an urgent need, life or death situation, or even for the benefit of the poor (like Robinhood robbing the rich and giving to the poor). What if a person is stealing out of an impulse or anxiety? What if a person has kleptomania? Would the law of man acquit him? What does psychiatry have to say about it?



What Is Kleptomania?

“Kleptomania is a relatively rare mental health disorder characterized by the recurring inability to resist stealing.” –Karen Doll, Psy.D., L.P.

Kleptomania is a mental health condition where a person has an irresistible urge to steal or take something that he doesn’t need. He takes satisfaction from being able to loot something successfully. For instance, a kleptomaniac may steal from a store in the mall, but he doesn’t need the item anyway. He likes the feeling of being able to deal with his impulse.


Is Having Kleptomania Enough To Acquit Anyone Legally?


The legal liability of a person clinically declared to have kleptomania depends on the state, and for those observing the M’Naghten Rule (an assessment made to determine if a person is sane at the time he committed a crime), kleptomania is not an excuse and therefore convictable.


In the M’Naghten rule, it states that a person should be proven to have a mental illness that has prevented him from identifying wrong from right. In the case of kleptomania, the law believes that a person is aware of his action and the consequences but does it anyway. Yes, there is the urge to steal, but regardless, the law believes that a person could still prevent it.




What Are The Causes Of Kleptomania?


  • Psychiatry believes that kleptomania may be from a problem in the brain. People with this condition have a low level of serotonin which is usual in impulsive behaviors.


  • Psychiatry believes that kleptomania is an addictive disorder. The feeling of satisfaction after stealing something releases dopamine which causes pleasure.


How Do We Help Our Loved One Who Has Kleptomania?


A reliable support system is essential in the treatment of kleptomania. “You know the ones—these are the people you know you can always call, text, or email when you need to feel a connection.”  David Klow, a licensed therapist said. If you have a family member or a friend who has this condition, it is imperative that they are aware of your genuine concern for their wellbeing. Educate them about the consequences of their actions and that you will also be affected by them. Make them aware that there are professionals who can help them with their condition.


What Are The Treatments Available For People With Kleptomania?


Several medications are available to treat mental issues associated with kleptomania such as depression and impulses. Antidepressants are helpful in addressing depressive thoughts particularly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.




Psychotherapies are also helpful in managing mental health issues like kleptomania. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is an efficient way to determine the underlying cause of the disorder. It aims to feed the mind with positive feelings and thoughts preventing negative behaviors and giving in to impulses.

“If we are speaking about impulsive and compulsive stealing then we need to think about the etiology of impulse disorders, the neurobiology of the patient, dopamine feedback loops and the psychological, emotional and developmental context of the patient.” –Samantha Smithstein Psy.D.

Kleptomania is an irresistible urge to steal, but it has always been the law not to take away something that belongs to our neighbors – “Thou Shall Not Steal.” And no matter how challenging kleptomania is, with enough support from family and friends and proper treatment conducted by professionals, it is possible to stop living in guilt and shame brought about by kleptomania.