FDA Warnings State Abilify Can Cause Compulsive Gambling

by Terry Bryant

When suffering from depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or another mental health condition, people may struggle to find relief. If other treatments fail, doctors may prescribe from a wide array of medications. However, certain prescription meds like Abilify (ariprazole) can cause compulsive gambling and other trigger-based obsessive behaviors.

Mental disorders such as depression are caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Two of the main chemicals (otherwise known as neurotransmitters) in the brain are dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine is associated with the part of the brain that recognizes pleasure, happiness, and reward, and compels us to act in our lives to receive said rewards and pleasures. For instance, if someone is depressed, their dopamine level may be low, causing them to recognize that they need to clean the house and that they would feel better if it was clean, but they feel unable to physically act and begin the cleaning process. Serotonin, on the other hand, sends signals between nerve cells and is the main regulator of our mood and libido. A low level of serotonin could result in a low or depressed state of mind. Any imbalance of these two chemicals can cause mental disorders. Drugs like Abilify are intended to correct any imbalance by either decreasing or increasing dopamine or serotonin in the brain.

Compulsive behavior is defined as any act that is repeated persistently. A compulsion can begin as an activity that brings someone joy, such as winning a friendly bet. Over time, however, the compulsion can start to become unfulfilling, no longer bringing pleasure, or even to the point where it causes harm. Eventually, the person continues the act regardless of whether they feel it is good for them or not, much like an addiction.

So how is Abilify linked to compulsive gambling? The drug, which generated over $6 billion in 2013 alone, acts on the receptors of the brain for serotonin and dopamine. In a normal brain, these chemicals respond appropriately to pleasurable activities. However, the active ingredient in this popular drug can over-stimulate the receptors, allowing for an overdose of sorts on dopamine. This high that is experienced after activities such as sex, gambling, or overeating becomes increasingly addicting and almost impossible to stop.

Multiple case studies have been conducted to prove the connection between Abilify and compulsive gambling. Yet the manufacturer (Bristol-Myers Squibb) continues to not only sell the drug as an add-on to other anti-depressants, but also advertises it as a quick solution to depression. Commercial ads even state that some patients saw relief from depression symptoms in as early as one to two weeks. Aside from brief mentions of “unusual behavior,” televised ads do not warn consumers of the potential for compulsions to gamble. In fact, the manufacturer did not include any type of warning on Abilify regarding compulsive gambling until November 2015, even though drug regulators in Europe had been aware of the dangerous potential since November 2012. As a result, lawsuits have been filed on behalf of plaintiffs who claim that Bristol-Myers Squibb was aware of or should have been aware of the potential for compulsions to gamble and failed to properly inform consumers. Damages to cover financial losses as well as compensation for pain and suffering have been sought.

A case example of a lawsuit regarding the connection between Abilify and compulsive gambling is Nicholas Meyer’s case in Indiana. Meyer claimed that after beginning the drug in November 2010, he developed a previously non-existent compulsion to gamble. He claimed his addiction lost him over $45,000 and that “the injurious impact… on [his] brain constitutes a physical injury, and as a result… [he] has suffered, and will continue to suffer, neuro-psychiatric and physical injury, emotional distress, harm, and economic loss.” After Meyer had discontinued use of Abilify, he claimed his compulsive gambling stopped. In situations like Meyer’s, the urge to gamble becomes uncontrollable and can result in terrible ramifications such as emotional pain and mental suffering.

The devastation that a gambling addiction can cause to a family is remarkable. Accumulating massive amounts of debt, draining a family’s life savings, and/or lying and hiding reckless actions from a spouse can tear families apart. If you or someone you know has taken Abilify and suffers from compulsive gambling, speaking with an attorney may help you understand your legal rights and help determine if your case warrants a lawsuit.