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New research reveals that almost half of people with Parkinson's disease who take dopamine agonists for their condition go on to develop impulse control disorders.
Gambling addiction may be a side effect of Parkinson's drugs, suggests new research.
Parkinson's disease is characterized by a deficiency of a key brain chemical called dopamine.
Dopamine plays a crucial role in learning, but it is also known as the "sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll" neurotransmitter because our brains release it when we experience pleasure.
The production of dopamine can be excessively stimulated by taking drugs such as alcohol, cocaine, or heroin.
So, the neurotransmitter is at the heart of addictions and impulse control disorders ranging from substance abuse to sex addiction and gambling.
Such impulse control issues have been found to be common in people with Parkinson's disease. Pathological gambling and compulsive shopping, as well as compulsive eating and sexual behavior, have all been documented among patients with Parkinson's.
The drugs often prescribed to people with Parkinson's are the main risk factor for such compulsive behavior. Because dopamine is deficient in Parkinson's, the go-to treatment is dopamine agonists — which are drugs that activate the brain's dopamine receptors — or the well known levodopa, which turns itself into dopamine.
However, until now, researchers have not been able to establish a clear dose-effect relationship between Parkinson's drugs and impulse control disorders. As the authors of the new research write, some studies found such an association, while others did not.
So, researchers led by Dr. Jean-Christophe Corvol — of the ICM Brain and Spine Institute at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris, France — set out to investigate whether such a relationship existed in a large, longitudinal cohort of patients.
Having a larger sample size and longer follow-up period in the new research leads to more reliable results, which can settle the discrepancies of previous studies, explain Dr. Corvol and colleagues.
The findings were published in the journal Neurology.
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