Kleptomania 411

Dear Dr. Per Cap: 

I have a relative I’m worried might be a kleptomaniac. He has a habit of shoplifting weird items he doesn’t even need. How can I help him?


Watchful Eye

Dear Watchful Eye,

Kleptomania is a serious mental health disorder in which people can’t resist the urge to steal objects or shoplift merchandise. Your relative’s situation is especially concerning because the stolen items often have little value or purpose to the person taking them.

I had a friend who I strongly suspected suffered from kleptomania. He often stole weird stuff for no apparent reason. Once while exiting a movie theater, he spotted an open janitor supply closet. Without a word, he darted into the storage room and emerged nonchalantly a few seconds later. Then, while walking through the parking lot, he reached inside his hoodie and proudly revealed a roll of toilet paper.

Another time he pocketed a plastic sign off a craps table in a casino and again displayed it as something cool. It was extremely odd behavior especially because he was really smart, college educated, and came from a fairly well-off family facing no financial challenges; although he was going through a tough time over the loss of a close family member, which may have caused some angst.

Kleptomania is a really scary condition that can cause tremendous problems for the person stealing, as well as those around them. Most businesses don’t take kindly to shoplifters and make it a point to prosecute, which could mean criminal charges and heavy fines. Job losses, arrests, and failed relationships are just a few of the problems a person suffering from kleptomania might face.

Even scarier is the fact that no known cure for kleptomania exists, although counseling and certain prescription medications can help. I recommend reaching out to your local health-care provider for more information on how to best deal with this problem. You can also call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for resources and support in your area. 

Hope your relative gets the help he needs.

Ask Dr. Per Cap is a program funded by First Nations Development Institute with assistance from the FINRA Investor Education Foundation. For more information, visit www.firstnations.org. To send a question to Dr. Per Cap, email askdrpercap@firstnations.org.