In the past couple of years prescriptions for the medications which contain the peptide Semaglutide (Ozempic and Wegovy) have skyrocketed as they have shown themselves to be very effective in helping people lose weight.
Their main mode of action reduces hunger. But a striking side effect which has become increasingly recognized is decreased desire for things other than food- Namely alcohol, nicotine and opioids! So this successful treatment for weight loss may very well find success in combating smoking, alcohol and narcotics abuse. And it appears that there may be even more to the health benefits of reducing cravings, in that these medications may help to reduce compulsive behaviors such as gambling and compulsive shopping. There is certainly a logic to this-if it reduces the desire for food by some mechanism related to the brain’s pleasure center, then it certainly isn’t a stretch of logic to consider its usefulness in all kinds of compulsive/addictive behaviors.
Beyond logic, there is indeed a good amount of research that is accumulating pointing to the scientific validity of these observations.
For the scientists who have studied these medications, this striking effect was exactly what they expected. Pharmacologist Elisabet Jerlag and her colleagues at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden have been studying for more than a decade, how Ozempic (semaglutide) can reduce alcohol consumption in rats. They have now published nearly a dozen studies showing how these drugs stop binge drinking in rats and mice, prevent relapse in addicted animals, and overall decrease their alcohol consumption. Dr Jerlag says. “It’s not really surprising….We see a reduction in alcohol consumption by over 50% which is quite dramatic.” Other studies have also pointed to the reduction in consumption of nicotine, opiods and psychostimulants such as cocaine.
Non scientists have been sharing their experience which seem to confirm the real world effects of the studies. Real estate agent Meg Johnston from the D.C, area reports that during covid she gained weight and also, “I would drink out of boredom, just total boredom”. So she began taking semaglutide– “I was hoping I would be one of the people the the drug affected this way”. Indeed she has not been disappointed. “Many days I don’t drink at all. It’s hard to explain why. Alcohol just doesn’t sound as appetizing or appealing”.
Getting further into the science of this issue is Dr Lorenzo Leggio, clinical director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse. He explains that these diabetes/ weight loss drugs don’t just work on blood sugar. “They also work on the brain”, he explains. “The mechanism in the brain that regulates overeating overlaps with those responsible for the development and maintenance of addiction, including alcohol disorder.”
Neuroscientist Alexandra G. DiFeliceantonio at Virginia Tech explains that after the first bite of food a release of the brain chemical dopamine occurs. “That dopamine essentially tells you, hey do that again! Take another bite.” and you then want more . A gulp of cold beer does the same-it triggers the release of dopamine telling you that you would like to do that again. Dr DiFeliceantonio explains, dopamine in the brain’s motivation center is the learning signal for everything. “Not just for food. All addictive drugs increase dopamine “.
Another individual whose story has been published speaks to the help that semaglutide might provide for a number of conditions any one person may suffer from. J. Paul Grayson, who lives on a ranch in Oklahoma, suffers from prediabetes, high blood pressure and a heart arrhythmia. During covid he found as so many other people did that he gained weight-around 40lbs.
Despite some concern about possible side effects like, nausea, vomiting or constipation he started taking Ozempic thinking that it would be worth trying the medication if it could help him lose weight and benefit his other associated health problems.” Right away, I started eating less and losing weight”. That was to be expected but then something else he did not expect started happening, “I remember going to dinner for the first time while taking Ozempic. I ordered a beer, took a sip and I couldn’t finish it. You know how sometimes you taste a beer and it’s like-Oh my God, this tastes so good that I want to guzzle it. Well, I didn’t feel like guzzling. I just really felt like sipping it.” And instead of having several beers as he might ordinarily do, he stopped at one drink.
Although more research need to be done on the effects of Semaglutide on addictions of all kinds, it is being widely reported that clinics around the country have started using it for alcohol and control of other addictive behaviors and are reporting success.