Parkinson's Disease and Gambling

The treatment of Parkinson's Disease has caused some patients to develop serious gambling problems.

Parkinson's Disease affects the nervous system, causing tremors, stiffness, impaired balance and muscle rigidity, generally caused by a shortage of the neurotransmitter dopamine in their brains. Doctors have responded by prescribing "dopamine-agonist" drugs that mimic the chemical's effect to lessen the symptoms. About 80,000 Australians suffer from Parkinson's.

Dopamine-agonist also stimulates the pleasure and reward areas of the brain. Research has shown that some of these drugs have contributed to the development of impulse control disorders in Parkinson's patients, including hypersexuality and problem gambling.

Impulse control disorders are often motivated by the prospect of pleasure or gratification and, in people with Parkinson's, most typically involve sex or gambling but may also cause compulsive shopping, overeating and other impulsive behaviour. In almost all cases, the impulsive behaviours that accompany Parkinson's or its medications are out of character with the person's pre-Parkinson's personality.


Problem gambling in Parkinson's patients may be treated by doctors by adjusting the dosage of the dopamine-agonist drug, or by prescribing a different or additional medication to modify the Parkinson's symptoms while controlling behaviour. In addition, behavioural measures can assist, such as problem gambling counselling or restricting access to gambling opportunities.


A number of class actions have been brought against the manufacturers of dopamine-agonist drugs seeking compensation for patients who developed gambling problems.

In Canada and the USA, several hundred class actions have been brought against a number of companies selling Parkinson's medication, claiming that their clients received inadequate warning about the dangers of gambling and other addictive behaviour. One US case resulted in a $8 million dollar award against the manufacturer of Mirapex, a Parkinson's drug.

In Australia, a Melbourne law firm is launching a class action against a number of pharmaceutical companies that sell Parkinson's drugs. A number of Parkinson's patients claim that they lost large amounts of money gambling as a result of strong urges that they encountered while taking medication.

For general information, contact Parkinson's Australia at

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