U researchers find possible new kleptomania treatment

A drug previously used to treat alcohol and drug addiction can be effective treating people addicted to stealing.

A drug commonly used to treat alcoholics and drug addicts can also treat kleptomaniacsâÄô addiction to shoplifting, a study released Wednesday by the University of Minnesota shows. The study, conducted by researchers at the Medical School, took place over a two year period and monitored 25 men and women who spent an average of at least one hour a week shoplifting. Some participants in the study were given the drug Naltrexone , which is used to treat alcohol and drug addicts, while others received a placebo. The study found those who received Naltrexone shoplifted less than those who were given the placebo. Similarities in behavior between kleptomaniacs and other addicts have led therapists to try different drugs to help treat kleptomania in the past. But Dr. Jon Grant , lead investigator for the study, said this is the first rigorous study examining the effectiveness of drug treatment for shoplifting addicts. Although there is some debate as to what level of shoplifting qualifies as kleptomania, Grant said a kleptomaniac can be defined as anyone who has recurrent, uncontrollable impulses to steal. He emphasized kleptomaniacs donâÄôt shoplift because they canâÄôt afford what they steal; instead they steal because it gives them a rush. Naltrexone is an opiate blocker that works by dampening the pleasure or high that kleptomaniacs get from shoplifting, said Grant, who is also a psychiatry professor. Naltrexone can be toxic to the liver, he said, so people taking it should have their liver enzymes checked regularly. If addicts donâÄôt feel the rush from shoplifting, the behavior wonâÄôt be reinforced and addicts wonâÄôt feel as strong of a need to steal, he said. Kleptomaniacs often know they shouldnâÄôt steal and describe feeling shamed for their actions, Grant said, but the high addicts get is too âÄúenticingâÄù and they are unable to stop themselves. âÄúThey try to put it off, they try to delay doing it,âÄù he said, âÄúbut the craving is too intense and they end up doing it.âÄù Although the drug will not cure kleptomania, Grant said with therapy and group support, Naltrexone can be a âÄúpiece of the puzzle.âÄù Recovering shoplifter Terry Shulman said even though he knew stealing was wrong, he felt a rush of adrenaline and got a sense of fulfillment from shoplifting. While some people may drink or overeat to deal with their problems, Shulman said he would shoplift whenever he was feeling angry or stressed. âÄúI felt really ashamed about it because I knew it was wrong,âÄù he said, âÄúbut it gave me this high.âÄù Shulman eventually started therapy for his addiction and ended up founding Cleptomaniacs [sic] and Shoplifters Anonymous, a support group for people addicted to stealing, in 1992. The first chapter, started in Detroit and is still going today, Shulman said. He has since helped start other support groups across the country and written books on shoplifting addiction. Although statistics from the National Association of Shoplifting Prevention state that nearly 27 million people in the United States have shoplifted at some point in their lives, but Shulman estimated that few of these people suffer from kleptomania. With the discovery that Naltrexone can help treat kleptomania, Grant said he hopes addicts will be more open to discussing their issues. âÄúIf you’re a kleptomaniac it means, âÄòokay maybe now there’s some evidence that something could help me,âÄôâÄù Grant said.