Cutting alcohol consumption in half Scientists discover a surprising side effect of the anti-obesity drug Semaglutide

Alcohol self-medication

A new study showed that Semaglutide, a drug used to treat obesity and diabetes, significantly reduced alcohol consumption and relapse rate in alcohol-dependent rats, promising its use in the treatment of human alcohol dependence . The drug appears to block alcohol-induced dopamine release in the brain’s reward system, which could potentially curb the rewarding effects of alcohol, although clinical trials in humans are needed to confirm these findings.

The drug Semaglutide, also known by brand names such as Ozempic, has been approved for the treatment of obesity, leading to a surge in demand that has caused recent supply woes. Some patients struggling with obesity or diabetes have reported informally that their craving for alcohol decreased after starting this drug.

Currently, a blend of assorted psychosocial drugs and techniques are used to treat people suffering from alcohol addiction. There are four approved drugs on the market. Given the multifaceted nature of alcohol dependence as a disease with numerous origins, the effectiveness of these drugs can vary. Therefore, the development of further therapeutic options is crucial.

Reduced recurrences

Semaglutide is a long-acting substance that only needs to be taken once a week. This is the first drug to act on the GLP-1 receptor that can be taken in tablet form.

The results of the study are published in the scientific journal and Biomedicine. In the study, alcohol-dependent rats were given semaglutide, which significantly reduced their alcohol consumption and even reduced their alcohol consumption concurrently with relapses. Relapses are a major problem for people with alcohol dependence, as an individual who has abstained from alcohol for a period relapses and drinks more than before withdrawal.

Elisabet Jerlhag Holm and Cajsa Arans

Elisabet Jerlhag Holm and Cajsa Arans, Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg. Credits: Johan Wingborg, Elin Lindström

In the study, treated rats had their alcohol intake in half compared to animals that did not receive the treatment. An interesting finding in the study was that semaglutide reduced alcohol intake equally in both male and female rats.

Animals and humans

The study reports a surprisingly good effect, although clinical trials will be needed before the drug can be used for alcohol addiction, and such trials take time. Going forward, the drug may be of more benefit to patients suffering from both overweight and alcohol addiction. According to the researchers, these findings are likely to be carried over to humans, as results from other alcohol addiction drug studies using the same research model have shown similar effects in humans and rats.

There are, of course, differences in conducting animal and human studies, and these must always be taken into consideration. However, in this case, there is an earlier study in humans where an older version of diabetes drugs that act on GLP-1 was found to reduce alcohol intake in overweight individuals with alcohol dependence, says Elisabet Jerlhag, professor of pharmacology at Sahlgrenska. Academy at the University of Gothenburg.

Mechanisms in the brain

The current study also looked at why the drug reduces alcohol consumption. The results indicate that alcohol-induced reduction in reward could be a contributing factor. In the study, semaglutide affected the brain’s reward system in mice, to be more specific the nucleus accumbens area of ​​the brain, which is part of the limbic system.

Alcohol activates the brain’s reward system, resulting in the release of dopamine, something seen in both humans and animals. This process is blocked by the drug in mice and, according to our interpretation, this could cause an alcohol-induced reduction in reward, says Cajsa Arans, a doctoral student at the University of Gothenburg’s Sahlgrenska Academy who is responsible for much of the work at the basis of the study presented here.

Reference: Semaglutide reduces alcohol intake and relapse-like consumption in male and female rats by Cajsa Arans, Christian E. Edvardsson, Olesya T. Shevchouk, Qian Zhang, Sarah Witley, Sebastian Blid Skldheden, Lindsay Zentveld, Daniel Vallf , Maximilian Tufvesson-Alm and Elisabet Jerlhag, June 7, 2023, and Biomedicine.
DOI: 10.1016/j.ebiom.2023.104642

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