Can Certain Medications Make Problem Gambling Worse?

person emptying pills out of bottle

Each prescribed drug comes with a list of potential side effects a patient could experience while on the medication. Over the years, research has been emerging showing a connection between specific medications and problem gambling behavior. For example, a great deal of data from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) indicates that common drugs treating Parkinson’s disease can cause extreme gambling habits. Should you be aware of your medication’s effects on your gambling behavior?

Medications That Can Cause Uncontrollable Gambling

While prescription medications have enabled people to make fantastic strides in their mental health journeys, these drugs are not entirely without their faults. Patients taking drugs for mental health issues, such as anxiety, ADD, depression from gambling, or Parkinson’s disease, need to be aware that certain medications prescribed by their physician can cause compulsive behaviors, such as pathological gambling.

It’s important to note that not all antidepressants and other medications will cause a person to develop a gambling problem. However, certain prescription medications can make the behavior worse. Here are some of the most common drugs that increase the risk factor of developing a gambling problem:

Dopamine Receptor Agonists

Medications with dopamine increase a person’s feelings of pleasure and joy. Unfortunately, when not properly monitored and regulated, these drugs can also trigger a person’s impulsive tendencies. They may gamble, shop, or pursue sexual pleasures compulsively because they feel a heightened sense of risk, novelty, and reward.

Dopamine receptor agonists are most commonly used to treat Parkinson’s disease and restless leg syndrome. A drug often used in the US for Parkinson’s is Pramipexole, also known as Mirapax, Mirapexin, and Sifrol. This drug is frequently associated with increased gambling behaviors.

Medications for Restless Leg Syndrome

People with restless leg syndrome (RLS) are prescribed dopamine receptor agonists like patients with Parkinson’s disease. If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with RLS, you need to be aware of the risks associated with taking Pramipexole and Ropinirole (also known as Requip, Repreve, Ronirol, and Adartel), which includes the trigger to gamble excessively.

Mental Health Medications

Some antidepressants and other mental health medications have been shown to encourage disordered gambling behaviors. These drugs affect dopamine activity in the brain and cause patients to feel a thrill any time they participate in risky behavior. 

If you already enjoy gambling from time to time, you will need to closely monitor your gambling behavior after being prescribed an antipsychotic receptor agonist. The most common mental health drugs that can result in uncontrollable gambling urges include Abilify, Abilify Maintena, Aristada, Effexor, Cymbalta, and Rexulti.

Medications Used in the Treatment of Problem Gambling

At this time, there aren’t any FDA-approved medications for treating gambling disorders. However, some prescription meds can reduce your urges and cravings for gambling. These medications include naltrexone, lithium, and other antidepressants.

While these medications are available, it’s important for people who gamble to seek therapy and treatment for their other psychiatric disorders, such as anxiety or depression, that may be driving them to gamble.

Take Control of Your Destiny

With so many prescription medications with costly side effects, it is no wonder patients are concerned there isn’t an alternative drug that does not risk them developing a gambling problem. Until you can be sure your medications will not affect your gambling behavior, it’s up to you to be aware of the medications’ side effects and monitor your behavior while on them. If you suspect the medication negatively affects your behavior, seek medical advice immediately.

For a full list of medications known to cause uncontrollable gambling urges and medicines used to treat gambling disorders, check out our list here.

If you need support overcoming your gambling problem, consider participating in GA meetings online. You’ll be able to speak with recovering gamblers just like you. You can also call 1-800-GAMBLER for treatment options and hope.


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