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Drugs like Ozempic, Wegovy may help prevent alcohol use disorder

hand holding a semaglutide injection
Semaglutide drugs were tied to a significantly lower incidence of alcohol use disorder in a new study. Image credit: JNemchinova/Getty Images.
  • A new study from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine reveals that popular diabetes and weight-loss drugs, Wegovy and Ozempic, may significantly reduce alcohol misuse and alcohol use disorder.
  • The research highlights the potential of semaglutide, the active ingredient in these medications, to serve as a new treatment for alcohol-use disorder, a condition responsible for about 178,000 deaths annually in the United States.
  • While the findings are promising, experts agree that further clinical trials are needed to confirm semaglutide’s effectiveness for preventing or treating alcohol use disorder.

Alcohol use disorder, also known as alcohol misuse, dependence and addiction, is a medical condition characterized by the persistent consumption of alcohol despite negative consequences.

The severity of alcohol use disorder can range from mild to moderate to severe, and the condition can negatively impact an individual’s health, quality of life and relationships.

Some of the harmful effects of alcohol misuse include:

Several factors can increase the likelihood of developing alcohol use disorder, including a family history of alcohol misuse, mental health issues and early initiation of alcohol consumption.

Currently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has only approved three medications Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source for the treatment of alcohol use disorder: naltrexone, acamprosate, and disulfiram.

Can drugs like Ozempic prevent and treat alcohol use disorder?

A new study, published in Nature Communications Trusted Source International Journal of Obesity Peer reviewed journal Go to source , proposes a potential new treatment option for excessive alcohol consumption and alcohol use disorder.

Its findings suggest that drugs containing semaglutide are linked to a lower likelihood of developing alcohol use disorder or experiencing a relapse of this condition.

Semaglutide, the active ingredient in Wegovy and Ozempic, is a type of medication known as a glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonist (GLP-1).

GLP-1 agonists are effective in regulating blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetes and in reducing appetite. GLP-1 is an incretin hormone that plays a role in regulating blood sugar levels.

These drugs mimic or boost the actions of this naturally occurring hormone. They promote insulin secretion in response to meals, reduce the release of glucagon, a hormone that increases blood sugar, slow down gastric emptying and suppress appetite.

The recent study involved analyzing the electronic health records of nearly 84,000 individuals with obesity.

The researchers discovered that people treated with semaglutide experienced a 50% to 56% reduction in both the onset and recurrence of alcohol use disorder within the following year, compared to those treated with other anti-obesity medications.

They gathered real-world evidence using a method similar to their two earlier studies undertaken by the same team.

Semaglutide’s effect on the brain

Previously, there had been concerns that semaglutide was linked to suicidal thoughts. However, a retrospective analysis Trusted Source International Journal of Obesity Peer reviewed journal Go to source showed that there was actually a decrease in suicidal ideation (suicidal thoughts) in participants taking the medication.

A second study Trusted Source International Journal of Obesity Peer reviewed journal Go to source by the team showed that semaglutide is also associated with a reduction in both new cases and recurrences of cannabis use disorder.

The team observed similar results when they analyzed the electronic health records of approximately 600,000 people with type 2 diabetes.

They consistently found reductions in alcohol use disorder diagnoses among those treated with semaglutide.

Although these findings are promising and offer preliminary evidence of semaglutide’s potential benefits for alcohol use disorder in real-world populations, further randomised clinical trials are necessary to confirm its clinical use for alcohol-use disorder.

Rong Xu, PhD, a professor of biomedical informatics at the School of Medicine and the study’s lead researcher explained the key findings to Medical News Today.

She told us:

“The retrospective study collected real-world evidence indicating that semaglutide (Ozempic or Wegovy) has potential in both preventing and treating alcohol use disorder […] This is consistent with anecdotal reports that people taking semaglutide had less desire to drinking or finding alcohol drinking no longer appealing.”

Mark A. Anton, MD, medical director at Slimz Weightloss, not involved in this research, said that the findings did not surprise him.

“[T]he study from Case Western Reserve University aligns with our observations at Slimz Weight Loss Clinic, where patients using GLP-1 receptor agonists like semaglutide have reported not just weight loss but also a marked decrease in alcohol cravings,” he told us.

“This suggests that these medications may influence brain reward pathways, potentially offering a novel approach to managing alcohol-use disorder,” Anton detailed.

Two birds with one stone: Doctors hail semaglutide’s potential

Sazan Sylejmani, PharmD, also not involved in the study, described the research as “promising.”

“It highlights the potential of GLP-1 receptor agonists like Wegovy and Ozempic to reduce alcohol abuse and dependence,” he explained.

Like Anton, Sylejmani noted that what the study found “aligns with observations in my practice, where patients on these medications have reported decreased cravings for sugar and alcohol.”

Xu noted that the findings “provide strong evidence supporting future randomized clinical trials to test semaglutide for alcohol use disorders.”

Although further research is needed to confirm the results, Anton highlighted that “the potential implications of this research are significant.”

“For patients and the public, it means that medications primarily used for diabetes and weight loss could also help reduce alcohol dependence, addressing two major health issues concurrently.”

– Mark A. Anton, MD

Anton concluded that “this could lead to broader treatment strategies that integrate metabolic and behavioral health.”

This article originally appeared on Medical News Today.

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