Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Of Note: Drug-Induced Gambling

(I wrote and posted this about a week ago, but it never showed up on my blog for some reason, so I'm posting it again now. ) A few years ago I wrote a story for Popular Science about the science of addiction. At that point, several researchers I talked to suspected that having abnormally hight levels of dopamine -- a hormone that transmits signals in the brain -- might be connected to things like compulsive gambling, compulsive eating, and several other "behavioral addictions." They didn't have much scientific evidence to back up their hunch. And they weren't warmly received by a good chunk of the medical community since their idea smacked of medicalizing human behavior, of giving people excuses for pathologial behaviors. It's not my fault I can't stop gambling/eating/ exercising/shopping/looking at online porn ... my dopamine levels are off!

That whole debate pretty much faded from public view, but it might be resurfacing soon: A new potential Parkinson's drug may have just accidentally provided some hard science for the dopamine-and-addiction debate: The movement problems in Parkinson's patients are caused by dopamine deficiencies, so several studies have looked at treating them with a class of drugs called dopamine agonist -- drugs that essentially trick the brain into thinking it has more dopamine than it does. They hoped this would help Parkinson's patients move more normally, and it does. But in some cases, it also made them compulsive gamblers.

Eleven people with Parkinson's disease temporarily became compulsive gamblers After taking a class of drugs designed to control movement problems caused by the illness, a new study reports. "This is the latest in a series of case studies linking such drugs -- called dopamine agonists -- to pathological gambling in Parkinson's Patients. This lends continued support towards the hypothesis that this family of medicines may cause difficulty with behavioral issues in this population of patients," said Dr. M. Leann Dodd, lead author of the study and senior associate consultant in the department of psychiatry and psychology at the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minn.

That's one way to look at it: These drugs could definitely cause difficult "behavior issues" by turning Parkinson's patients into addicts of all kinds. But the side effect is pretty minimal: The drug helps hundreds of thousands of Parkinson's patients; the compulsive gambling thing only happens in 1% of those. The other way to look at it is, Whoa! How could a drug lead to gambling?! In some cases, it also led to an increased appetite for food, alcohol and sex. But at this point, we don't know much about the neurology of how these drugs caused these addictive behaviors, and the sample size of this study was so tiny, it's too soon to say much of anything. I'm sure this will lead to lots of interesting addiction research, and I'll be watching closely to see where it goes. But if anybody I know starts blaming their compulsions on dopamine levels, they get a swift kick. Beause it's just not that simple ...

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Blogger Carney Man said...

So, theoretically, I could start blaming my addiction to Facebook on this imbalance...interesting. But then again, that would mean that 56.84% of college students levels were off, and thats not including the ones addicted to beer, sex, drugs, not going to class, going to other peoples classes, etc...

1:05 AM  

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