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Popular weight loss drug semaglutide reduces alcohol cravings

A new study has revealed that semaglutide, a drug commonly used for diabetes and weight loss, may significantly reduce symptoms of alcohol use disorder (AUD). 

This promising research was conducted by experts from the University of Oklahoma School of Community Medicine and Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences. 

First documented evidence in humans 

The study was primarily focused on six patients undergoing weight loss treatment with semaglutide. Remarkably, all participants exhibited a substantial decrease in their alcohol use disorders identification test (AUDIT) scores. 

This decrease is the first documented evidence in humans that semaglutide can specifically mitigate AUD symptoms.

The study has sparked optimism among medical professionals and researchers. It highlights the potential of semaglutide to significantly impact the lives of individuals struggling with alcohol use disorder.

What is semaglutide?

Semaglutide is a medication primarily used in the treatment of type 2 diabetes. It works by mimicking a hormone called glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), which is involved in the regulation of blood sugar levels. 

When semaglutide binds to GLP-1 receptors, it enhances the release of insulin, a hormone that lowers blood glucose levels, while also reducing the secretion of glucagon, a hormone that increases blood glucose levels. This dual action effectively helps in controlling blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes.

Ozempic and Wegovy

Semaglutide has gained recent acclaim under the brand names Ozempic and Wegovy for its potential in promoting weight loss. The drug reduces appetite and food intake, which can lead to significant weight loss in some individuals. This has made it a subject of interest in the treatment of obesity.

The popularity of Ozempic and Wegovy has surged so quickly in the United States that some people are having trouble getting their prescriptions filled. According to one study, the number of prescriptions for these drugs quadrupled in two years, reaching about 9 million by the end of 2022.

Potential therapeutic applications 

The new study suggests that the potential applications of semaglutide may extend far beyond diabetes and obesity. Prior animal studies have already shown that semaglutide can decrease drug and alcohol consumption, and many patients using it for diabetes or weight loss have reported a diminished desire to consume alcohol.

“This research marks a significant step forward in our understanding of the potential therapeutic applications of semaglutide in the field of addiction medicine,” said study lead author Dr. Jesse Richards, an expert in Obesity Medicine at the OU-TU School of Community Medicine.

Clinical trials 

Dr. Kyle Simmons is the paper’s senior author and professor of Pharmacology & Physiology at OSU-Center for Health Sciences. He noted that this case series evidence paves the way for gold-standard placebo-controlled clinical trials such as the one he is currently conducting in Tulsa at the OSU Hardesty Center for Clinical Research and Neuroscience. 

“This is an example of what can happen when our two R-1 research institutions in Oklahoma collaborate,” said Dr. Simmons. “With the publication of this case series in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, the stage is set for future clinical trials, such as the STAR studies, which can definitively tell us whether semaglutide is safe and effective for treatment of alcohol use disorder.” 

Study implications 

The researchers emphasized the need for further investigation through larger, controlled studies to validate and expand upon these initial findings. 

The study highlights a remarkable reduction in AUDIT scores among patients treated with semaglutide for weight loss, suggesting its potential utility in managing alcohol use disorder.

The findings pave the way for future investigations into glucagon-like peptide-1 medications, like semaglutide, for treating addictive behaviors.

The study is published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

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