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Parkinson's Disease Health Center

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Parkinson's Drugs Linked to Gambling

High Dopamine Agonists Doses May Lead to Gambling Addiction

WebMD Health News

Aug. 11, 2003 -- Researchers say that high doses of some medications used to treat Parkinson's disease may make some patients more likely to develop a gambling addiction.

During a recent study, published in the August 12 issue of Neurology, researchers discovered an unusual finding: Excessive gambling may be a possible side effect of dopamine agonists -- drugs often taken for the degenerative brain disorder.

Parkinson's disease causes the nerve cells that produce dopamine to die. Drugs such as Requip, Mirapex, and Permax are common dopamine agonists. They work by activating the dopamine receptor in the brain. Ultimately, they mimic or copy the function of dopamine -- a chemical that transmits signals between areas in the brain that, when working normally, coordinate smooth and balanced muscle movement.

Researchers at Muhammad Ali Parkinson's Research Center in Phoenix examined the data of nearly 2,000 Parkinson's patients over the course of one year. Of those volunteers, 529 were taking Mirapex, 421 took Requip, and 331 were treated with Permax.

Gambling Trouble With Two of Three Drugs

Nine of those patients were diagnosed as pathological gamblers -- a major psychiatric disorder characterized by uncontrolled gambling.

Most of the nine patients were in the advanced stage of Parkinson's for more than 11 years before their gambling problems began. The patients were taking both levodopa -- a drug that the brain transforms into dopamine -- and a dopamine agonist. Eight of the patients took Mirapex as their dopamine agonist, and one patient was on Permax.

Researchers found that patients had been taking Mirapex or Permax anywhere from six months to five years before gambling problems hit. Seven patients started gambling within one month of an increased dose of their dopamine agonist. None of them had a problem gambling before taking the drugs.

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