Drug Side Effects Drive Patients to Gamble, Eat, Drink, and …

…people with Parkinson’s disease temporarily became compulsive gamblers after taking […] drugs designed to control movement problems caused by the illness…

That’s the lead in this Forbes story on the matter, and that’s not all. A variety of ‘interesting’ side effects popped up among a relatively small number of study participants:

  • pathological gambling
  • compulsive eating
  • increased alcohol consumption
  • obsession with sex.

The drugs in question are “dopamine agonists” and are part of the standard treatment of Parkinson’s disease. Though the story emphasises the rarity of these side effects, it talks up the dramatic effects when they do crop up:

One 52-year-old married man started gambling “uncontrollably” after raising the dose of his dopamine agonist. His wife phoned the neurologist to report that her husband had lost more than $100,000, was eating compulsively — he gained 50 pounds — and had an obsession with sex that resulted in him carrying on an extramarital affair. The man lost his excessive interest in gambling and sex when the medication was tapered off, according to the report

Another man with no history of gambling started frequenting casinos for days at a time, exhibited an increased sex drive, drank more alcohol and ate excessively. When his medications were stopped, he reverted to having sex once weekly instead of four times a day.

And one 68-year-old man lost more than $200,000 gambling in six months and left town for days at a time without telling anyone where he was.

But instead of celebrating the fact that they’ve found a drug that might be used to make the entirety of earth’s population as drunk, sex hungry, and overweight as we Americans appear to be, these killjoy doctors are looking in the results for clues to combatting compulsive or addictive behavior elsewhere. Dr. M. Leann Dodd senior associate consultant in the department of psychiatry and psychology at the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minnesota wonders:

It would be very interesting to see whether or not medications that have the opposite effect on [these nerve receptors] might curb some of these behaviors. Does this lead to potential treatments for blocking [the neural activity driving these obsesive behaviors]? That’s clearly something to look at.

Anyway, thanks to Jon for pointing the article my way.