Canada: Abilify Impulse Control: What Can I Do If I Think Abilify Caused Serious Compulsive Behaviour?

Last Updated: May 10 2017
Article by Paul Miller

"You did what?!" It's an entirely expected reaction when a loved one has done the unexpected. If someone acts in a way that is completely out of character it can be jarring and difficult for our brains to process. And when their actions have caused harm to them, us, or others, it is extremely distressing.

We may be concerned, angry, or tempted to pass judgment. But above all else, the question on our minds is "Why?" "Why would you do such a thing?" Sadly, the person may not know why if something beyond their knowledge and control caused them to act impulsively.

In this blog post I review how the popularly prescribed drug Abilify can cause these damaging "out of character" actions in some people, the signs to look for, and how to know if you may have a legal case to get compensation and damages for the harm the drug caused.

A Drug Meant to Help Can Also Hurt

Abilify (aripiprazole) is a second-generation, atypical anti-psychotic drug known as a stabilizer. Unlike earlier anti-psychotics that simply block the brain's chemical receptors to dopamine and serotonin – neurotransmitters that affect feelings associated with pleasure, mood, impulse and obsession – Abilify is supposed to adjust and balance the levels of these chemicals.

It is approved to treat schizophrenia and bipolar (Type I) in people 13 years of age or older in Canada, but it is also often prescribed for "off-label" uses, including for treatment of Tourette's syndrome, irritability related to autism, anxiety disorders, ADHD, and general depression. Although this drug has helped many people manage their mental health conditions safely and effectively, like most pharmaceuticals it has been found to cause side effects in some people.

Advertised side effects include nausea and/or vomiting, blurred vision, headache, insomnia, high blood sugar and diabetes, seizures, and strokes in the elderly, among others. However, Abilify's makers have not issued warnings about reported cases where people taking this drug engaged in destructive compulsive behaviour that was out of character and induced by a reaction to the drug.

What Are The Warning Signs Should I Look For?

Some people taking Abilify have conditions like bipolar (Type 1) that may already affect their impulse control abilities. If they have acted erratically or exhibited compulsive behaviour before taking Abilify, their "out of character" actions may not easily attributed to the effects of the drug itself. If the compulsive behaviour began after they began taking the drug or if their erratic actions differ significantly from their past behaviour, Abilify may be the likely culprit. Moreover, other people with no previous history of compulsive behaviour may begin acting out in harmful ways once they are on the medication. In both cases, ceasing to take Abilify should stop the compulsive behaviour for a causal effect to be shown.

For example, people taking Abilify have reported compulsive or uncontrollable urges to gamble, binge eat, shop, and have sex while using aripiprazole (branded as Abilify, Abilify Maintena, Aristada, or as a generic version). These urges resulted in substantial financial losses, weigh/health problems, and damaged relationships.

If you have experienced this type of "out of character" behaviour you should immediately consult with your prescribing physician and report what happened. If you've witnessed a loved one acting compulsively unexpectedly, as difficult as it may be – especially if you've been hurt by their actions – you should also show compassion, support, and encourage them to speak with their doctor.

Ceasing prescription medications can be dangerous if not managed properly under a doctor's supervision. However, should the prescribing physician opt to reduce and eventually stop prescribing Abilify and the compulsive behaviour stops occurring, it is a powerful indication that a reaction to Abilify was the cause.

What Can I Do If I Think Abilify Caused This Compulsive Behaviour?

Abilify's makers had a responsibility to warn doctors and their patients about all potential side effects of the drug, including damaging compulsive behaviour. Without knowing all the risks, how could a person make an informed decision about whether the potential benefits outweighed the chance of harm?

If you or a loved one took this medication and experienced a significant financial loss as a result, you may be eligible to seek compensation and damages through a mass tort action. Unlike class action lawsuits where all members of a class share equally in a decision or settlement, individual cases brought through a mass tort use previously established decisions and settlement structures from test cases as guidelines for distributing future awards based on a person's distinct claim.

Some indications of whether a person has an actionable case include:

  • Damaging compulsive behaviour that only began after taking Abilify (and ceased if/when no longer on the medication)
  • Direct financial losses from the compulsive behaviour (for example, spending tens of thousands of dollars or more compulsive gambling or shopping)
  • Substantial indirect financial losses (for example, compulsive sexual urges leading to extramarital relations that are penalized as a part of prenuptial agreements, or compulsive behaviour that leads to termination from employment)
  • The affected person has not previously signed on to class actions against Abilify's makers

Putting Your Life Back Together

If taking Abilify has caused you or a loved one to engage in harmful compulsive of impulsive actions, unfortunately damage has likely already been done to you, your finances and personal relationships. But this hurt should not bring on a sense of hopelessness. With the help of a supportive network, including an experienced personal injury lawyer specializing in medical product liability, "You did what?!" can become "Here's what we're going to do now." Please contact me to learn more about your legal options.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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