Drugs Like Ozempic May Help People Stop Drinking

Researchers looking into anecdotal reports of curbed drinking, other addictive habits
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 28, 2023 11:30 AM CDT
Drugs Like Ozempic May Help Addiction, Too
The injectable drug Ozempic.   (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

The popular diabetes and obesity drug Ozempic appears to have an intriguing and welcome side effect in some people: It helps them curb drinking, reports NPR. In fact, researchers are looking into the possibility that this class of drug (GLP-1) might also reduce cravings for cigarettes and opioids as well—and curb addictive behavior in general, from gambling to shopping to biting nails, per the Atlantic. One huge caveat: "All these reports, for the most part, are anecdotal," University of North Carolina addiction researcher Christian Hendershot tells NPR. "At the same time, it does seem like there's a pretty strong signal here." A number of clinical studies are underway to figure out what's going on with semaglutide, the active ingredient in Ozempic, its counterpart Wegovy, and other GLP-1 drugs.

The leading theory is that semaglutide doesn't just regulate blood sugar, the reason it has proven effective against diabetes. This class of drugs also seems to work on the brain in some capacity, says Lorenzo Leggio of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. "The mechanism in the brain that regulates overeating overlaps with those responsible for the development and maintenance of addiction, including alcohol disorder," he says. Or, as the Atlantic puts it: Semaglutide "may alter the brain's fundamental reward circuitry." So far, most of the studies on the subject have involved animals.

For example, one out of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden found that semaglutide reduced overall alcohol intake and relapse drinking by more than half in rats, per Neuroscience. Despite the promising results, researchers emphasize that far too little is known about the effects on humans to recommend semaglutide as an addiction treatment. For example, one small study found that another GLP-1 drug called exenatide reduced alcohol intake among obese patients but actually increased drinking among subjects who were not obese. (Other research suggests that Wegovy might provide some heart protection, which, if borne out, could lead to far wider coverage by health insurers.)

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