Are Medications for Parkinson’s Patients Addictive?

Many patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative disorder that causes lack of coordinated movement, are stuck in a Catch-22 – they need medication to stabilize their symptoms but the side effects of these medications can cause compulsive, obsessive and/or addictive behaviors. Why are the drugs that treat the disease potentially addictive? One of the characteristics of Parkinson’s is a lack of dopamine, one of the feel-good chemicals released when certain substances are used – whether it’s heroin, cocaine, or a medication designed to increase the release of dopamine in a more controlled way, the triggered pleasure pathway in the brain can respond with psychological cravings for more of the drug.

Medications for Parkinson’s

There are the two types of medications used to treat Parkinson’s disease that seek to replace the missing dopamine:

  • Levodopa. Developed in the 1960s, Levodopa attempts to restore chemical balance with an artificial chemical that is converted into dopamine in the brain.
  • Dopamine agonists. Introduced 12 years ago, dopamine agonists mimic dopamine by stimulating the same nerve cells.

Roughly 17 percent of patients taking one of these two Parkinson’s prescriptions will experience noticeable behavior changes. However, if they do not take the drugs, they will lose physical functioning.

Parkinson’s Medications May Cause Addictive Behaviors

In a number of cases, patients taking Parkinson’s medications have developed issues with impulsive and addictive behavior patterns. These can include behaviors such as substance abuse and gambling, which are related to addiction and compulsive behavior. However, many patients on Parkinson’s medications also find themselves obsessively drawn to activities not usually associated with addiction.

For example, Nikki Baudains, 48, of Great Britain, started painting around the clock after she began taking a combination of Levodopa and dopamine agonists her doctor prescribed to treat her Parkinson’s symptoms. Baudains says: “I was surviving on as little as three hours of sleep, sometimes getting up to paint in the night.”

The behavior became so all consuming, it actually took a toll on her marriage, causing her and her husband to separate after 18 years together.

Discuss Any Addictive Behaviors After Starting Parkinson’s Meds With Your Doc

Every patient has different reactions to their Parkinson’s medications. It is important for doctors to make known the potential for the development of these devastating addictive behaviors when patients are given a prescription drug for Parkinson’s. Patients and their loved ones can then monitor their behavior for changes and get help immediately before the problem gets out of hand. The type of drugs used and dosages can be modified if any problems arise.

If changes to medications do not rectify the situation, researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London found that a mixture of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and prescription medications such as antidepressants can help get the compulsive activities back under control.

If you or someone you love is struggling with addictive behaviors, help is available. Here at Axis, we can help you to find the balance you seek in life. Call now to speak to someone about our programs.