Medications that cause Compulsive Gambling

Medication and gambling

It may sound like a good trial defense but more and more studies are showing that certain medications can lead to compulsive behaviours like gambling.

Of course these side effects are the exception to the rule. Yet as increasing numbers of people with certain medical conditions begin to exhibit these behaviours when taking specific prescribed medications, and find that the same inexplicable compulsions disappear when discontinuing the meds, experts are facing mounting evidence that there may be something to it after all which is adding new chapters to the psychology of gambling.

Here we’ll take a look at some of the leading compulsive behaviour inducing medications so that if you’re on them and find yourself being drawn to excessive, compulsive gambling behaviours, then you can seek help.

Parkinson’s Medications

It is a well document fact that certain medications used in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease have been associated with compulsive behaviours including impulsive and excessive shopping, gambling and sexual activities.

The reason for this is that the class of drugs in question, also known as dopamine antagonists, are designed to replace the loss of dopamine caused by structural breakdowns in areas of the brain that control the ability to move. The increased dopamine levels then affect other areas of the brain such as the dopamine-mediated neural system linked to the pleasure and reward behaviours and the associated emotions which then manifest in impulsive and compulsive actions.

Three popular and widely used Parkinson’s drugs namely Mirapex, Levodopa and Carbidopa have been identified in potentially causing these types of compulsive behaviours in a small number of users.

Mirapex (Pramipexole) is thought to be the most widely used of these drugs, with in excess of $200 million sales in the US alone last year. It has been designed to reduce tremors and stiffness of movement that are the hallmark of Parkinson’s disease and while the medication works wonders for the majority, for some users it is the beginning of a whole new nightmare.

Documented cases at the Mayo Clinic including a cases study of a 68 year old man who experienced losses in excess of $200,000 while gambling during a 6 month period while taking the drug and a 41 year old man who became obsessed with online gambling, losing $5000 in a short space of time. Both men insisted that they had never succumbed to such behaviours before taking the drug.

The same evidence is being presented in other parts of the world and doctors treating Parkinson’s patients now routinely ask patients using the drug if they have suddenly taken up gambling or are shopping or having sex more than usual. Those experiences these side effects are immediately switched to different drugs or have their doses adjusted, often with dramatic effect in that the compulsions vanish immediately.

Restless Leg Syndrome Medications

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) is a medically documented neurological disorder that manifests as anything from an unpleasant to painful sensation in an individual’s leg when at rest, often leading to sleep disruption and the ability to function due to it.

Interestingly, RLS is treated to drugs similar to those used to treat Parkinson’s disease, also in the dopamine antagonist category.

Two of the drugs in question include Pramipexole and Ropinirole (sold as Requip). Again documented cases of compulsive gambling behaviour coupled with severe losses in excess of $100,000 have been documented. In these cases, users were people with no prior history of problem gambling behaviour.

Schizophrenia / Bipolar Medications

A number of medications are used in the treatment of psychiatric disorders like Schizophrenia and Bipolar disorder. Abilify (Aripiprazole) is one of the top-selling drugs in this category, and has been linked to compulsive behaviour side effects such as pathological gambling, hyper sexuality and binge eating. These behaviours are again attributed to interference with neurotransmitters in the brain affecting dopamine and serotonin which in turn affect mood and behaviour.

When dopamine is stimulated in response to a specific activity, people experience highs of emotion and pleasure which in normal cases ensure that survival functions like eating are sustained. In people with mental disorders, these systems are often over or under stimulated.

It is believed that Abilify may over-stimulate dopamine reward receptors thus triggering compulsive behaviours.

Several case studies have been made into the link between this drug and excessive gambling behaviours and one study showed that seven out of eight patients who had no prior history of problem gambling behaviour lost control of their gambling habits when using it. After reducing the doses significantly or terminating use, control was regained.


Medical experts have also found a surprising link between the commonly used anti-depressant Effexor and addiction to gambling. While no conclusive studies have been conducted, numerous patients have reported compulsive urges to gamble after starting the medication.

Again Effexor affects the serotonin/dopamine centres of the brain, and this could be behind why some of these patients experience compulsive gambling as a side effect.