“In Ozempic I immediately lost all desire for alcohol”

A surge of interest in the drug’s potential as a treatment for alcoholics has emerged following some published research and anecdotal evidence – AFP

Michelle Udden had taken to drinking every night. “If I’m honest, it almost became a habit,” says Udden, 51, who lives in New Hampshire, US, and works for a fintech company in the higher education space. “I didn’t get drunk every day, but I enjoyed two or three glasses of wine every night, and definitely more on the weekends. “I hadn’t gone a week without drinking for at least the last 10 years.”

But with a single injection of semaglutide, a drug marketed as Wegovy for weight loss or Ozempic for type 2 diabetes, all of this changed. “It was immediate,” Udden says. “I had my first drink on a Sunday night, immediately experienced appetite suppression and had no desire to drink. At the end of that week, I poured myself a glass of bourbon and couldn’t finish it.”

She is far from the only one experiencing this unexpected side effect. After injecting herself with the weight-loss drug, Micha Podolsky Harmes, 52, an executive assistant who lives in Kentucky, lost her desire to drink alcohol almost immediately.

“I used to drink at least two or three vodka cocktails a night,” he says. “Once I started semaglutide, I completely lost my taste for alcohol. Have [since] “I tried three drinks in five months and didn’t finish any of them.”

In recent months, there has been a surge of interest in the drug’s potential as a powerful new treatment for alcoholics and published evidence in research studies confirms these anecdotal reports. In July, a study by Swedish neuroscientists in the journal eBioMedicine showed that semaglutide can reduce alcohol relapse in rodents, while two new research papers have described similar benefits in humans.

When researchers at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center monitored the progress of six patients with alcohol use disorder, who had been prescribed semaglutide by the university’s weight loss clinic, they saw a significant reduction in their drinking. of alcohol.

Two new research papers have linked new weight-loss medications to fewer alcohol relapsesTwo new research papers have linked new weight-loss medications to fewer alcohol relapses

Two new research papers have linked semaglutide to fewer alcohol relapses – Getty Images/Image Source

“This is the first confirmed improvement in alcohol use disorder symptoms in humans,” says Professor Jesse Richards, assistant professor at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, who led the study. “Everyone who came to see us was taking medication for weight reasons, and we later found out that they had a significant reduction in their alcohol consumption. Probably the most fascinating finding was that even the lowest dose [of semaglutide]“The baby starter, a quarter-milligram dose, actually showed a pretty significant reduction, probably about 70 percent, of alcohol use disorder symptoms.”

Another study in which scientists remotely followed 153 people taking semaglutide or a different weight-loss drug called tirzepatide, also reported that they appeared to consume significantly less alcohol and had fewer drunken episodes.

So why is this? Although researchers still aren’t entirely sure, according to Professor Joseph Schacht of the University of Colorado School of Medicine, who is now leading a clinical trial specifically testing semaglutide in patients with alcohol use disorder, there are two main theories. .

Both are related to the underlying mechanisms of semaglutide, a synthetic drug designed to mimic the effects of a natural gut hormone called GLP-1 that is released after eating. Like GLP-1, semaglutide targets several regions of the brain to suppress appetite.

“Alcohol is a caloric substance and GLP-1 can be affected in the same way as food,” says Professor Schacht. “The other, more interesting hypothesis is that these drugs may affect brain pathways that regulate motivation and reward more broadly.”

He notes that semaglutide binds to a particular region of the brain called the hypothalamus that not only regulates hunger but is also connected to a particular network in the brain called the mesolimbic dopamine pathway. Alcohol and other drugs such as nicotine and opioids stimulate this system, flooding the brain with up to ten times the amount of dopamine it normally receives. Connections are then formed between brain cells to associate this increase with alcohol or another substance, forming the basis of addiction.

“Some animal research suggests that semaglutide reduces the release of dopamine in areas of the brain along the mesolimbic dopamine pathway,” says Professor Schacht.

Curiously, The Telegraph It also received responses from users who reported that semaglutide had decreased their desire to smoke or vape. Callie Ann Hastings said that before starting weight loss treatment with the drug, she smoked cannabis every night to help her sleep.

“Sometimes I also smoked during the day,” he says. “I noticed the change after a few days. She didn’t feel like smoking anymore. “I was looking at my vaporizer and I didn’t even want to touch it.”

Some clinics have already begun investigating semaglutide and other drugs called GLP-1 for addiction to other substances. In Pennsylvania, a new clinical trial has been testing liraglutide, another drug that aims to replicate the behavior of the hormone GLP-1, in a small group of patients with opioid use disorder. The results are expected in 2024.

But for now, most researchers are focused on possible applications for alcoholics. From the US to Denmark, there are five major clinical trials in total now testing semaglutide in people with alcohol use disorder.

According to Mette Kruse Klausen, a psychiatrist currently recruiting patients for one of these trials at Frederiksberg Hospital in Copenhagen, the interest stems from the great need for new addiction treatments. Research has shown that abstinence alone largely does not work, and two-thirds of patients relapse within just one year.

“New treatments are greatly needed,” he says. “According to the World Health Organization’s 2018 report, 280 million people suffer from alcohol use disorders, and harmful alcohol use is a leading cause of preventable deaths.”

While there are some treatments for alcoholics such as acamprosate, disulfiram, naltrexone and nalmefene, Professor Richards says they all have certain limitations. “Both acamprosate and naltrexone are approved to help reduce cravings, the problem is that acamprosate is a medication that is taken three times a day and naltrexone is a daily medication and cannot be used in patients with severe liver disease” , he says. “If you miss a dose or two, the cravings come back.”

But while there is considerable excitement around semaglutide’s potential, there is still much to understand about how it works and its durability over time. Some people said The Telegraph that the drug changed the taste of certain forms of alcohol, to the point that it actively rejected them, something Professor Richards also reported in his study. “Having a real aversion to the taste of alcohol is an anecdote I’ve heard quite often,” he says. “Hopefully we will have an explanation for this in the near future.”

Klausen says the trials are vital to understanding whether the drug can benefit all people with alcohol use disorder, as well as the minimum dose of semaglutide needed to achieve benefit. “The lower the dose, the lower the risk of side effects,” she says.

If the trials are successful, semaglutide could quickly become available worldwide as a new therapy for alcoholics, as the drug’s safety has already been tested in overweight and obese people.

For people like Udden who have already experienced the benefits, as well as losing weight, it is easy to see the big difference it could make to many people’s lives.

“I’m much more focused on work,” she says. “I sleep much better and wake up without an alarm clock. I’m not sure how I feel about drinking in the future. When I think about social gatherings and things like an upcoming all-inclusive vacation, being sober isn’t much fun. But if I had to choose between being sober and drinking as much as before, I would stay sober.”

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