Friday, July 16, 2010

Dopamine Agonists in Psychiatry

The dopamine agonists pramipexole and ropinirole are drugs used in the treatment of Parkinson Disease.

These drugs are now well-established in treating restless legs syndrome (RLS) and periodic limb movement disorder of sleep (PLMS), which are frequent problems afflicting about 10% of the population, and which can negatively impact quality of life & mood symptoms.

There is a small body of evidence showing possible benefits of dopamine agonists in the treatment of depression.

Unfortunately, dopamine agonists can exacerbate addictive/compulsive behaviour: 

Here are some references about the role of dopamine agonists in RLS and PLMS:

Here's a good review article on the use of ropinirole to treat these conditions:
Here's a recent review of dopamine agonists in general to treat RLS:
Here's a 2008 meta-analysis comparing ropinirole with pramipexole for treating RLS.  Pramipexole is shown to be slightly superior:

In this 2010 study, gabapentin was compared to ropinirole for treating RLS.  While ropinirole was superior in reducing objective measures of periodic limb movements, subjects taking gabapentin had a higher subjective benefit:

Here's a case study showing remission of depressive symptoms with ropinirole used as an augmenting agent: 

Here's a 2005 study looking at ropinirole augmentation in treating depression:
This 2010 review in Lancet showed a direct antidepressant effect of pramipexole in Parkinson Disease patients:
Here's a rather weak but positive 2010 paper describing a group of patients with bipolar depression who appeared to benefit from longer-term pramipexole treatment; doses averaged about 1 mg/d:

The side effects from these drugs include frequent nausea and dizziness, possibly some daytime sleepiness.  Psychiatric adverse effects can include hallucinations, and increased compulsive or impulse-control problems.

In summary, I think dopamine agonists have a role in selected psychiatric conditions, particularly if there are restless-legs symptoms contributing to insomnia or nocturnal discomfort.  They may help treat refractory depression, but there is a risk of causing impulse control problems or hallucinations in predisposed individuals. 

Potential adverse effects of group therapy

I encountered an article today about a subject I've often thought about:  does group therapy actually have a risk of worsening underlying problems?

Here's a link to the article:,8599,2003160,00.html

The mechanism could typically occur in the treatment of addictions, which is the subject of this article.  The same mechanism might operate in the treatment of behavioural problems, including conduct disorders, eating disorders, maybe even mood disorders.

Basically, the concern is that the individuals in the group might actually "teach" others in the group about tactics to engage more deeply in the problem behaviour.  The social bonds formed in the group might expand a person's network to engage in addictive behaviours.  If some members of an addiction treatment group are severely involved in the addiction, are perhaps ambivalently committed to therapy, and may be connected to convenient resources in the community to access their addiction, this may facilitate other less severely involved members of the group to broaden their access to addictions.

In eating disorders, members of the group might "compete" with each other to some degree with eating disorder behaviours.  If there are social leaders in the group who are still highly involved in the eating disorder, this may cause a negative peer pressure on others who are starting out.  

On the other hand, an opposing, positive force in group therapy is encountering others who have understanding and personal experience of similar problems.  This can be especially important for problems where a person often feels judged or misunderstood.  Also, members of the group can teach others tactics to deal with moment-to-moment manifestations of the addiction.  In order for these positive forces to be manifest, the group itself needs to be composed of individuals who are probably similar in terms of problem severity, and where there are individuals members of the group who are progressing.  This introduces a social learning effect, in which an individual can see and emulate another individual with similar problems who is starting to make progress.  The similar problem severity among members of the group would hopefully reduce the likelihood of mildly afflicted group members being drawn into more severe illness behaviours.

Since progress through problems is always a dynamic, individualized process, it may be that involvements with groups ideally need to change dynamically as well.  If  individuals are moving quickly away from addictive behaviours, they may ideally need to nurture group connections which are similarly healthy.

This poses another problem for many with long histories of addiction or other socially dynamic health problems:  relationships which have been strongly associated with the addiction may need to left behind, or at  least boundaried very carefully.