Impulse Control

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Today is my 60 days sober off of gambling. It’s not much, but it’s a good start. It feels a lot better than being back at day 1; God knows I was a nervous wreck the first few days after I quit gambling. The reason I am posting right now is that I am apart of a Gambler’s Anonymous support group through Facebook. One person brought up the medication Abilify, which is commonly used as an antipsychotic for schizophrenia, bipolar, depression, and even in some cases of autism for cases of irritability.

Often there is a plethora of side effects of any drug, but some of the side effects for Abilify is unstable moods (such as increase in depression or suicidal thoughts) which are rather serious among some less serious side effects such as nausea, vomiting, weight gain, etc, etc. One of the more serious side effects that I had never been made aware of until I joined my GA group was impulse control.

The FDA claims that Abilify affects impulse control and has noted issues with sexual impulses, impulse gambling, excessive shopping, and compulsive eating. (https://www.fda.gov/drugs/drug-safety-and-availability/fda-drug-safety-communication-fda-warns-about-new-impulse-control-problems-associated-mental-health). The discussion in my group led to accusations that the drug made these individuals have impulses to gamble. You may have the impulse to gamble, however, it is you who is in control of who goes to the casino, goes and gets the scratch tickets, etc.

Although I haven’t done a whole lot of research on the matter, I think this is more an issue of taking autonomy over your own self and recognizing that you have the control to change your words and actions. Sure, the medication can feed into the cravings of receiving the feel good chemicals in your brain, but if you fight those urges, you win over your impulses.

I recognize that may be easier said than done; I just don’t like the concept of blaming an inanimate object for the course of your own destiny. It’s like blaming alcohol for making you buzzed or drunk and you eventually becoming an alcoholic. It’s subtle; you don’t one day wake up with a drinking problem nor do you one day wake up with poor impulse control. That has to due with brain chemistry and yes, medication affects your brain chemistry, but it takes a series of months to train your brain to be and act a certain way. You have months beforehand to recognize patterns and say, “Hey this medication is causing ________ result when I do _______.”

We also must assess if gambling or other impulse issues were a problem before you started taking the Abilify, the beginning of taking the medication, or afterwards. If you had poor impulse control, it’s no wonder the medication might affect your behavior, but it also means that it’s a reason behind your thoughts and actions, not an excuse. Now let’s say you had a good diet, did moderate shopping, and gambled twice a year and started taking Abilify and over the course of five months those numbers sky rocketed, we might need to have a conversation with your doctor. But then we must assess why you are taking the Abilify. If you have one of the conditions I listed previously, there is already a chemical imbalance in your brain which makes you more susceptible to addiction and to impulsivity, which could lead you into these habits rather than the medication leading you into these habits.

For me personally, I started taking Abilify when I was almost 19 and was legally gambling at 18. I went to the casino a few times, was able to walk away when I started losing, and had no issues. I naturally have an addictive personality so I kept that in mind when gambling and when taking medication. I started at 15 mg and never increased my dose because within four consistent months of taking Abilify, I noticed a psychiatric change in my psychotic episodes. I freaked out less and my mood swings were lessened by at least 50%, most likely more. Granted, most people take a lot more milligrams of Abilify than I do/did, but it depends on a person’s size, medical history, stature, and medical diagnoses.

I started really impulse gambling after I broke my foot working for the Navy and began to work graveyard. I was 20 years old, making more money than I knew what to do with, and my depression was at a serious low. I was fearful of losing my job, having major foot surgery, I had just bought a brand new car, that year I cheated on the love of my life and in the same year we got engaged to be married…forever. I had a lot on the line… I think the only negative way my medication affected me was my own fault; I would stop taking them when the mania hit in order to feel the high and once I would come down after days or even weeks, then I would start taking meds for a month or so until I wanted to be manic and was manic again. There are so many variables when it comes to impulse control and medication that its rather difficult to prove or disprove either side.

Anyways, I would go on and off my meds and I would gamble daily or whenever I had money and this happened for two more years until I finally got kicked out of my house and I finally hit rock bottom. Never once did I dare blame it on Abilify or any other mood stabilizer; they were my friends, not the enemy. With that being said, as the reader, what do you think about the matter? Is the situation black and white? Or is it grey? Feel free to comment your thoughts on Abilify, impulsivity, mental health, college, I don’t care haha.

Much love,

Dani

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