Impulse Control Disorders More Common in People Who Take Dopamine Agonists


A French study which followed 411 people for an average of three years who had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease (PD) within 5 years, has reported an increase in impulse control disorders in patients taking dopamine agonists.

Dopamine, a chemical in the brain which regulates movement, is gradually reduced in those with PD. Levadopa, a pharmaceutical treatment for PD and dopamine agonist, converts to dopamine in the brain.

Participants in the study were asked in interviews about impulse control disorders including compulsive shopping, eating, gambling and sexual behaviors.

At the beginning of the study, about 87% of participants had taken a dopamine agonist at least once. Of those, 20% had an impulse control disorder.


Percentage of patients with impulse control disorders in study

Impulse control disorder

Percentage of patients exhibiting disorder at beginning of study

Any impulse control disorder


Compulsive eating problems/disorders


Compulsive sexual behaviors


Compulsive shopping


Compulsive gambling


More than one impulse control disorder



Of the subjects who did not have an impulse control disorder at the start of the study (306), 94 developed a disorder during the study.


Incidence of impulse control disorders in study

Description of patient

Average annual incidence

Five-year incidence

Have never taken dopamine agonists

26 per 1,000 persons


Have taken dopamine agonists

119 per 1,000 persons



“These disorders can be challenging for neurologists to discover,” states Laura S. Boylan, MD, New York University, New York, New York, and Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology. “People might be ashamed to tell their doctor about their problems, they may think these issues are not related to to their Parkinson’s disease, or they may not even consider the disorders a problem. Plus, as doctors’ time for meeting with each patient gets shorter and shorter, bringing up sensitive issues gets harder and harder.”

Thirty subjects with impulse control disorders who stopped taking dopamine agonists were followed in the study. Of those 30, one half no longer have issues after one year. Additionally, researchers found that subjects who took higher doses of drugs and for longer periods of time were more likely to develop impulse control disorders.

The study was funded by the French Ministry of Health and the French Drug Agency.



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