Answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about Abilify, an antipsychotic drug linked to gambling addiction and compulsive eating, shopping, or sex.
Frequently Asked Questions
Abilify® is the brand-name version of aripiprazole, an antipsychotic drug made by Bristol-Myers Squib. It was approved by the FDA in 2002.
Abilify is approved by the FDA to treat schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression, irritability associated with autism, and Tourette’s syndrome. The injection version is given to treat agitation associated with schizophrenia or bipolar mania.
Abilify works by balancing levels of chemicals in the brain. It stimulates dopamine and serotonin or inhibits them to keep a balance. Other drugs in this class are used to treat Parkinson’s disease.
Dopamine and serotonin are involved in the brain’s “reward system.” They are released during pleasurable activities to reinforce certain behaviors. Abilify amplifies these effects, resulting in addictive behaviors and uncontrollable urges. Patients may not realize the behaviors are abnormal.
- Uncontrollable gambling, shopping, eating, or sex
- Stroke in elderly patients with dementia
- Neuroleptic malignant syndrome
- Tardive dyskinesia
- Diabetes and weight-gain
- Low blood pressure
- Low white blood cell count (leukopenia)
- Cognitive and motor impairment
Abilify belongs to a class of drugs called dopamine agonists. In 2003, a study found that 1.5% of Parkinson’s disease patients on dopamine agonists developed compulsive gambling. In 2005, Mayo Clinic researchers reported 11 cases of gambling addiction, including one 68 year-old man with no history of gambling addiction who lost more than $200,000 in 6 months.
Yes. In May 2016, the FDA issued a Safety Communication about uncontrollable urges to gamble, shop, eat, and have sex after receiving 184 reports of impulse-control disorders.
Yes. The new label (PDF) asks doctors to specifically ask patients about any new or intense urges because patients may not realize their behaviors are unusual. The new warning states:
Post-marketing case reports suggest that patients can experience intense urges, particularly for gambling, and the inability to control these urges while taking [Abilify]. Other compulsive urges, reported less frequently include: sexual urges, shopping, eating or binge eating, and other impulsive or compulsive behaviors. Because patients may not recognize these behaviors as abnormal, it is important for prescribers to ask patients or their caregivers specifically about the development or new or intense gambling urges, compulsive sexual urges, compulsive shopping, binge or compulsive eating, or other urges while being treated with [Abilify]. It should be noted that impulse-control symptoms can be associated with the underlying disorder. In some cases, although not all, urges were reported to have stopped when the dose was reduced or the medication was discontinued. Compulsive behaviors may result in harm to the patient and others if not recognized. Consider dose reduction or stopping the medication if a patient develops such urges.
Out-of-control gambling problems can lead to devastating losses, both financially and personally. People who are addicted to gambling bet money and valuables on games of chance — lotto, sports, horse races, cards, slot machines, and more. Consequences may include:
- Financial debt
- Home foreclosure
- Loss of employment
- Guilt or emotional trauma
- Damaged reputation
In 2011, the British Journal of Psychiatry published the following case reports of gambling addiction in patients on Abilify:
- “[J] was pre-occupied with thoughts of gambling and his gambling activity became both impulsive and involved extensive planning in obtaining funds to gamble, including the use of crime.”
- “[K] described an escalation in his gambling to the extent of spending all of his money and it being ‘a reason to live’.”
- “[S] began experiencing strong urges to gamble in the form of a euphoric feeling when thinking about gambling. In the following 2 years he incurred debts of around £25,000 on internet betting sites.