Casinos and online gambling sites such as Vegas World only go so far—they warn about a gambling addiction and post information about where to get help. But even if they did warn patrons about Abilify, it might be too late. For Abilify users like Debra, it would likely help if their prescribing doctor talked about Abilify side effects before starting the medication. And the manufacturer slapped a black box warning on the Abilify label.
“My addiction problems started nine months ago with online shopping,” Debra says. “I’ve never been into shopping; instead I’ve been against materialism pretty much all of my life. My boyfriend asked, why all the packages? I had no answer.”
A Facebook friend sent Debra a link to an online gambling site called Vegas World, thinking she would have fun with it. Instead it caused Debra financial ruin, right from the get-go. “It was like a whole other world. Instead of money you purchase Lucky Charms and go to parties; sometimes I spent the whole day there,” she explains.
Debra, age 53, is disabled and doesn’t drive—which made Vegas World even more enticing, and kept her away from real-life casinos. The site invites you to “connect to all games within Vegas World and these Charms increase winnings instantly. Party with friends in lounges, dance clubs, pool areas, and a virtual hotel in Vegas World!”
Fortunately, Debra didn’t miss any classes at college. But the minute she got home…
“I lost about $5,000 which isn’t much but I also lost $9,000 in student loans (I have no idea how to pay that back) and $15,000 on my credit cards. Now I am in trouble with all of that as well. It has been very stressful—I might even lose my rental housing.”
Debra’s Facebook friend found out about her gambling and financial problems. She sent a link to a news report about Abilify and its addictive side effects and Debra recognized herself. “My friend feels bad but she didn’t know what was coming. I can only blame myself,” she says.
And she can blame the Abilify manufacturer. In 2012, the European Medicines Agency required that the manufacturer warn patients and the medical community in Europe that Abilify use included the risk of pathological gambling. In 2015, Health Canada determined a link between the use of aripiprazole [Abilify] and a possible risk of pathological gambling. Despite the FDA receiving many reports of gambling, the U.S. Abilify label does not warn that compulsive and/or pathological gambling has been reported in patients.
Debra recently saw her doctor and tried to explain the situation. “He has always been a caring listener but this time he just blew me off and said I wasn’t taking enough Abilify to make a difference,” she adds. “I have to see this doctor because I’m on Medicaid and Medicare—I don’t have a choice. But at my request, he took me off Abilify and prescribed a similar med that might cause a rash. I can handle that.”
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Debra wants to warn others. “If you are taking Abilify, be careful. And if someone tells you that your behavior has changed, listen to them. My boyfriend tried to tell me but I ignored him—as gamblers do.”