The emergence of devastating impulse control disorders during dopamine agonist therapy of the restless legs syndrome

Clin Neuropharmacol. 2011 Mar-Apr;34(2):66-70. doi: 10.1097/WNF.0b013e31820d6699.


Introduction: The Restless Legs Syndrome is a common sensorimotor disorder, typically amenable to treatment with dopamine agonist therapy. Dopamine agonists have been associated with emergent impulse control disorders (ICDs) when used in patients with Parkinson disease, and ICDs have now been reported in individuals with RLS on dopamine agonist therapy. Our aim was to characterize cases of emergent ICDs in Australian patients with focus on the dopamine agonists implicated and the social significance of ICDs.

Method: A series of RLS patients on dopamine agonist therapy were identified with ICDs over a 2-year period. Additional cases of ICDs were found using a mailout questionnaire designed to capture those with high impulsivity. These patients were assessed using the Barratt Impulsiveness Scale, Version 11, and a modified Minnesota Impulse Disorders Interview. Case records and medication schedules were evaluated.

Results: Twelve cases of patients with de novo ICDs were found with a range of impulsive behaviors including pathological gambling, kleptomania, compulsive shopping, and hypersexuality. Criminality, suicidality, and marital discord also were featured. These occurred over a wide range of latencies and l-dopa exposures.

Discussion: This group of Australian RLS patients with ICDs display high levels of impulsivity and is the first to use the BIS-11 questionnaire in this setting. Impulse control disorders can occur over a wide range of dopamine agonist therapy types and dose exposures. Impulse control disorder tendencies may persist, despite withdrawal of dopamine agonists. The emergence of ICDs needs careful consideration in light of their potentially devastating financial, social, and marital consequences.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Disruptive, Impulse Control, and Conduct Disorders / complications*
  • Disruptive, Impulse Control, and Conduct Disorders / diagnosis
  • Disruptive, Impulse Control, and Conduct Disorders / psychology
  • Dopamine Agonists / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Restless Legs Syndrome / drug therapy*


  • Dopamine Agonists