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Abilify Compulsive Gambling and Behaviors

Abilify has been linked to compulsive behavior side effects, such as pathological gambling, binge eating and hypersexuality. These behaviors are thought to be triggered by the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin.

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One of the most popular treatments for a variety of mental disorders like depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, Abilify makes billions for Bristol-Myers Squibb and the Otsuka Pharmaceutical Company. It was the top-selling drug in the U.S. in 2013 with sales of over $6.4 billion. The drug works by either increasing or decreasing dopamine or serotonin in the brain when there is an imbalance, and this makes it useful for a variety of approved and unapproved uses.

However, the drug is also linked to disturbing compulsive behavior side effects that can wreak havoc on the lives of patients and their families.

Among these side effects, compulsive or pathological gambling can be financially crippling, and it can destroy lives. People in the grip of compulsive behaviors will do anything they can to continue the chosen activity, even if it means ignoring the rest of their lives and withdrawing from friends and family.

This side effect in particular may lead to lawsuits against Bristol-Myers and Otsuka America, claiming the companies did not properly warn patients and doctors of this serious side effect.

In addition, reports of other side effects include compulsive eating, shopping and even sex addiction.

How Abilify Causes Compulsive Behavior

While doctors aren’t exactly sure how Abilify (aripiprazole) works, they believe it acts on receptors in the brain for chemicals that regulate mood and behavior. These chemicals are neurotransmitters called dopamine and serotonin.

When the dopamine system is stimulated in response to a particular activity, people will feel a high from it or a feeling of pleasure. This reward system normally ensures that we continue to eat and do other things we need to do to survive. In people with mental disorders, these systems are stimulated excessively, or not enough.

Researchers think Abilify may over-stimulate dopamine reward receptors in the brain – called dopamine 3 (D3) receptors – and trigger compulsive behavior.

Compulsive Gambling

Several case studies focused on a connection between aripiprazole and compulsive behavior, also called pathological behavior, especially in the case of gambling. One French study published in 2013 by Gaboriau, et al., examined several people who checked into a clinic because of their compulsive gambling behaviors. Study authors looked at eight individuals who took Abilify as part of ongoing medical treatment. Researchers found the drug caused seven of the eight patients to lose control of their gambling habits.

After discontinuing the drug or greatly reducing the dose, patients regained control of their compulsive behaviors, researchers wrote.

Another 2011 case study by Cohen, et al. found similar results in patients treated for schizophrenia. No patients in this study had a history of pathological gambling. Soon after taking the drug, they began gambling uncontrollably.

Similarly, a 2011 British study conducted by the National Problem Gambling Clinic found a relationship between Abilify and the drive to gamble in some patients. Doctors described one case in which a patient took the antipsychotic and “was preoccupied 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.”

Another patient said gambling became “a reason to live” after he took the drug.

In all cases, gambling problems resolved after discontinuing Abilify and switching to another drug.

Other Pathological Behaviors

Unfortunately, gambling isn’t the only compulsive behavior linked to this drug. Doctors also report cases of binge eating and sex addiction, also called hypersexuality.

One Australian case study described a woman who gained 20 pounds in the months after she started taking the medication, in addition to losing thousands of dollars to gambling. She was unable to resist overeating. Like other cases of drug-induced compulsive disorders, once the drug was stopped, symptoms subsided.

Another patient in a separate 2008 study developed sex addiction symptoms after she took the drug for schizophrenia. She was obsessed with sexual thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Prior to taking Abilify, she had little to no sex drive.

The doctors in these studies call for caution and monitoring of possible pathological behaviors in patients who take the drug.


Drug companies have a responsibility to notify the public when a drug may cause harmful side effects. The label for Abilify does not mention anything about compulsive behaviors, including gambling. Many patients only found out it was a risk after it happened to them, and they suffered as a result.

Patients who took the drug and began gambling compulsively may have the right to pursue compensation from Bristol-Myers Squibb and the Otsuka Pharmaceutical Company.

View Sources
  1. Brooks, M. (2014, January 30). Top selling drugs of 2013. Medscape. Retrieved from http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/820011
  2. Cohen, J. et al. (2011). Aripiprazole-induced pathological gambling: a report of 3 cases. Current Drug Safety. Retrieved from http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/ben/cds/2011/00000006/00000001/art00012
  3. Smith, N. et al. (2011). Pathological gambling and the treatment of psychosis with aripiprazole: case reports. The British Journal of Psychiatry. Retrieved from http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/199/2/158.full
  4. Roxanas, M.G. (2010). Pathological gambling and compulsive eating associated with aripiprazole. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry. Retrieved from http://anp.sagepub.com/content/44/3/291.1.full?ijkey=ef3d31e30f12f6676f7c6a5777d49ed497a7b346&keytype2=tf_ipsecsha
  5. Schlachetski, J. et al. (2008). Aripiprazole induced hypersexuality in a 24-year-old female patient with schizoaffective disorder? Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology. Retrieved from http://journals.lww.com/psychopharmacology/Citation/2008/10000/Aripiprazole_Induced_Hypersexuality_in_a.16.aspx
  6. Gaboriau et al. (2014). Aripirazole: a new risk factor for pathological gambling? A report of 8 case reports. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24315783
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