Abilify is a brand name prescription medication used to treat certain mental illnesses. It is classified as an antipsychotic, and for many people it has provided relief from severe and debilitating symptoms. There are also possible serious side effects caused by Abilify, which may lead patients to file lawsuits against the manufacturer. These side effects include compulsive behaviors, specifically gambling, and suicidal thoughts.
Abilify Treats Mental Illness
Abilify was first created and developed by Otsuka Pharmaceutical Company, which then partnered with Bristol-Myers Squibb to market the medication. The generic name for Abilify is aripiprazole, and it belongs to the class of drugs called second generation antipsychotics. This class of drugs followed on the heels of the first generation antipsychotics, which were first developed in the 1950s.
As an antipsychotic, Abililfy is approved by the FDA to treat schizophrenia, a serious mental illness characterized by delusions, hallucinations, and other symptoms that interfere with living a normal life. The FDA also approved this medication to treat manic episodes for people with bipolar disorder, as a long-term maintenance drug for bipolar disorder treated with another medication, and as an adjunct for treating depression already treated with an antidepressant. It can also be used to treat the irritability seen in people on the autism spectrum.
Some of the most common side effects of taking Abilify, or its generic counterparts, which were approved by the FDA in 2015, include nausea, vomiting, constipation, fatigue, anxiety, headaches, tremor, insomnia, blurred vision, restlessness, drowsiness, and dizziness.
Less common, but also more serious side effects include a rash, dry mouth, an increased appetite, muscle aches, agitation, and seizures. Because of a possible increased appetite, Abilify can also lead to weight gain and associated complications like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar levels. The agitation and restlessness experienced by some users of Abiliby may be related to tardive dyskinesia or extrapyramidal effects, both of which cause muscle symptoms like tremors, stiffness, and jerky movements.
Abilify has also been shown to increase levels of the hormone prolactin in the blood. This hormone can have differing effects on men and women. Men may experience a lower sex drive or erectile dysfunction. Women may stop having their periods or may produce less breast milk. For both men and women, prolonged elevated levels of prolactin can lead to weakened bones and osteoporosis.
As with all antipsychotics, Abilify carries a low risk of causing a very rare and dangerous condition caused neuroleptic malignant syndrome. Symptoms include fever, muscle stiffness, confusion, and sweating. These symptoms should be treated seriously and require emergency medical treatment. Also rare with psychotics is sudden cardiac death because of an arrhythmia. Although rare, using the lowest effective dose is important because of this possible side effect.
Black Box Warnings
The FDA requires that Abilify carry a black box warning on packaging. This is a special, boxed warning that informs patients of very serious and life-threatening side effects. Pharmaceutical companies do not like to be given the mandate that their products have to carry this type of warning because it restricts how they can market it.
For Abilify the black box warning indicates that the drug increases the risk of death by stroke in elderly patients with psychosis related to dementia. The FDA does not recommend that this medication be used for elderly people who have dementia. The black box also warns that this drug can increase the risk for suicidal thoughts in children, adolescents, and young adults who are being treated for depression. The same risk does not hold for patients over the age of 24.
Compulsive Gambling on Abilify
Although it is not outlined as a possible side effects on official inserts, several studies have found that using Abilify may cause some people to behave in compulsive ways. Most often this is seen in the form of compulsive gambling, but compulsive eating has also been observed. Most of the research has been in the form of case studies, or descriptions of individual patients and their experiences while on Abilify.
These case studies describe situations such as patients with no previous problem gambling behaviors suddenly becoming compulsive gamblers while being being treated with Abilify for schizophrenia. In three case studies, these patients’ gambling was pathological. They could not stop. As soon as they stopped using Abilify, the urge to gamble also ceased. In some case studies, Abilify also seemed to lead some patients to eat compulsively.
The makers of Abilify have not warned patients or doctors that compulsive behaviors could be a side effect. There have been cases of people losing significant amounts of money because of this effect, and yet the drug companies have not been required to list this as a side effect. Lawsuits are possible for this reason and some patients who have suffered because of the compulsive gambling or eating may have very strong cases for getting settlements.
Compulsive and addictive behaviors are driven by a brain chemical called dopamine. When a person does something pleasurable, like win at the slots machine, dopamine is released and it feels good. People with addictions get hooked on this feeling. Abilify stimulates dopamine, which may explain why it leads some people to behave compulsively.
The Popularity of Abilify
In spite of the possible side effects, including compulsive gambling, Abilify has been a very popular drug for treating mental illnesses and symptoms. In 2014 it was the 14th most prescribed drug with nearly nine million prescriptions written that year. And it’s not just for the FDA-approved uses that doctors are prescribing Abilify. Doctors may prescribe Abilify to treat anxiety, anger, irritability, or obsessive compulsive disorder.
One reason for its popularity may be that most patients tolerate Abilify better than other antipsychotics. This can be a great thing for many patients, but without being aware of some of the risks, taking Abilify can lead to serious consequences. Awareness is important because a patient may not connect sudden gambling with a medication and may be too embarrassed or ashamed to talk to a doctor about it.
The lack of warnings about compulsive gambling may mean big trouble for Bristol-Myers Squibb and Otsuka. Lawsuits filed against them could end up in big settlements for the patients whose lives were destroyed by gambling. If you have experienced this effect with Abilify or another antipsychotic, you may want to see what your options are for starting or joining a lawsuit. It could help you get your life back on track.