New insights into compulsive behaviour

Dr Kieran BreenWe know that around 13% of people with Parkinson's who take dopamine agonists develop some form of compulsive behaviour. For some reason, these people experience the irresistible urge to do things that are often risky – like gambling, shopping, binge eating and hypersexuality - and can lead to desperate problems

This week I was fascinated by new US research published in the journal Neuron, which suggests that the brains of people who develop compulsive behaviour work differently, when they're exposed to dopamine agonists.

The research tested people with known compulsive behaviour like gambling or shopping. They played a guessing game while having their brain activity monitored. If they guessed correctly they got a 'reward'.

Their brains scans showed that when the people with compulsive behaviour won the game, they experienced a massive surge of activity in the part of their brain involved in reward and motivation. It almost fuelled their risk taking behaviour.

Understanding what causes compulsive behaviour is the first step towards finding ways to manage and prevent it.

We are currently funding a joint collaborative research project worth £640,000 investigating ways to identify people who may be at risk of developing compulsive behaviour, and finding more effective ways to manage it.

If you've experienced problems with compulsive behaviour, talk to your specialist nurse, consultant, phone our helpline on 0808 800 0303 or read more about compulsive behaviour on our website.

Dr Kieran Breen is Director of Research and Development at the Parkinson's Disease Society

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