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Alcohol Awareness Month: groundbreaking research about the potential of Ozempic as an Alcohol Use Disorder treatment.

By Ana Carolina Bovo

 

Although Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) is among the four leading preventable causes of death in the U.S., it is still widely undertreated, with only 7% of AUD adults being adequately treated. Researchers argue that the scarcity of available treatments, their modest rate of success, and the underprescription of these treatments might be part of the issue. 


In this scenario, the investigation of alternative treatments is needed and important. Surprisingly, there have been many reports on social media about the use of weight-loss and type-2 diabetes drugs like Ozempic related to a reduced craving for alcoholic beverages. These trending comments have captured the attention of researchers who are now working to understand the effects of these drugs and their potential to be an AUD treatment.


The Study


Researchers at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at Virginia Tech Carilion have investigated in two studies the relationship between the use of GLP-1 (Glucagon-like peptide-1) agonists and the self-reported patterns of drinking and alcohol craving with participants with a BMI over 30.


In the first study, using a machine learning-based attribution mapping, the researchers analyzed over 68,000 posts related to these medications and their impact on alcohol use on Reddit.


According to the study:

“962 individuals made a total of 1580 alcohol related posts. Most notably, 71.7% (1134/1580) of the alcohol posts addressed reduced cravings, reduced usage and other negative effects due to drinking, containing keywords such as stopped, reduced, sick, full, nausea, don’t want, cutback, low tolerance, craving. On manual inspection of randomly selected alcohol-related posts, we confirmed that these were unique individuals posting about their own or closely-known experiences."

That research helped map the phenomena of interest and raised questions about what could be the mechanisms underlying these differences in sensitivity toward alcohol use for this population.


To look into the possible interaction between GLP-1 agonist medications and changes in alcohol use, the researchers conducted a second part of this study, in which they analyzed self-reported data on drinking patterns for the past 30 days in two different groups, one that used the GLP-1 medication and one that did not. The results showed that participants in the medication group drank less alcohol on both weekdays and weekends when compared to the control group and that they also had reduced odds of binge drinking. Besides that, the participants' perception of the effects of alcohol intoxication, including sedative and stimulant effects, was reduced in the GLP-1 group. 


That study sheds light on potential other treatments for AUD and brings exciting new questions to researchers. 


Future Directions


  • New studies could focus on consumption data to better understand how alcohol is being processed in the bodies of those who are using those medications. 

  • Studies involving brain imaging would be interesting to further develop the findings and dig into how the combination of alcohol and GLP-1 agonist drugs are affecting the brain reward system.

  • Studies that looked into drinking behavior pre- and post-sustained use of the GLP-1 medication could account for individual differences and changes in alcohol drinking patterns. 


References

Quddos, F., Hubshman, Z., Tegge, A. et al. Semaglutide and Tirzepatide reduce alcohol consumption in individuals with obesity. Sci Rep 13, 20998 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-023-48267-2

Celik M, Gold MS, Fuehrlein B. A Narrative Review of Current and Emerging Trends in the Treatment of Alcohol Use Disorder. Brain Sciences. 2024; 14(3):294. https://doi.org/10.3390/brainsci14030294




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