Gambling disorder warning issued over Aripiprazole prescriptions

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The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has issued a reminder to healthcare professionals on prescribing Aripiprazole, a drug which can lead patients to develop compulsive behaviours such as problem gambling.

Branded as ‘Abilify’ or ‘Aristada’, Aripiprazole can be prescribed by GPs and healthcare professionals to treat schizophrenia and extreme cases of bipolar disorder.

However, as noted by the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA), patients must be warned of developing compulsive urges or cravings such as addictive gambling, excessive eating, spending, or high sex drive.

Tracked by the MHRA’s Yellow Card scheme, the DHSC has received 69 reports of gambling disorders related to Aripiprazole in the last 14 years, with 32 reports in 2023 alone.

“Thirty-two of these reports were received between January 1 and August 31 this year. In March 2023, the MHRA asked gambling clinics to report any suspected cases which may account for some of the rise,” DHSC noted.

Healthcare professionals are reminded that side effects related to impulsive behaviours have been included in the medication’s patient information leaflet and product information since 2012 for gambling and 2018 for wider disorders.

Alison Cave, MHRA Chief Safety Officer, said: “The number of reports for suspected gambling and other impulsive behaviours associated with aripiprazole are small in comparison to the frequency with which it is prescribed. However, the consequences for any patient developing these conditions can be significant.

“Aripiprazole is an effective and safe drug for many people. We are urging all patients to continue to take it and to speak to your doctor if you have any concerns. Please make sure you tell your doctor before starting the medicine if you have a personal history of excessive gambling or any other impulsive behaviours.”

Monitoring the use of Aripiprazole, the DHSC reports that “suspected addictive gambling occurred in patients both with and without a history of problem gambling and most reported that the urges resolved on reducing the dose or stopping treatment with the drug.”

As such, patients are advised to continue taking aripiprazole as prescribed and consult their doctor before stopping, as sudden discontinuation can be harmful.

Prof Henrietta Bowden-Jones OBE, Director of the National Problem Gambling Clinic, added: “Clinicians prescribing Aripiprazole must commit to consistently alert patients about these potential risks, both during the initial prescription and follow-up reviews. A significant number of patients with gambling disorder seen at the National Problem Gambling Clinic were unaware of the risks as their mental health teams had not alerted them.”

The MHRA continues to monitor the safety and effectiveness of aripiprazole and encourages anyone experiencing side effects to report them through the Yellow Card Scheme.”