Ongoing research delves into the perils of excessive and frequent alcohol consumption, investigating the quandary faced by individuals unable to curb their drinking despite the harm it inflicts. Eminent scholars strive to comprehend the potential of pharmaceutical interventions in mitigating alcohol intake.
The journal eBioMedicine reveals a groundbreaking study demonstrating the effectiveness of semaglutide, a diabetes medication marketed under various brand names like Ozempic, Rybelsus, and Wegovy, in curbing alcohol consumption among rats.
This study paves the way for further exploration into the possible role of this medication in assisting individuals afflicted with alcohol use disorder.
Employing a diabetes drug to diminish alcohol consumption, this specific study scrutinized the impact of semaglutide on drinking habits. Semaglutide aids the pancreas in insulin production and is commonly prescribed to ameliorate type 2 diabetes. However, recent research has unveiled its potential beyond diabetic treatment.
To gather data, researchers conducted experiments on mice and rats, investigating the influence of semaglutide on alcohol consumption in rats. Initially, a group of rats was exposed to alcohol for approximately nine weeks to establish a habitual pattern of drinking, with alcohol provided three days a week.
Subsequently, the rats were administered semaglutide, and the researchers evaluated its effects on alcohol consumption. The rats that received the medication exhibited reductions in their alcohol intake.
Study author Prof. Elisabet Jerlhag, from the Department of Pharmacology at the Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, The Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, elucidated to Medical News Today, “We found that semaglutide, given once or at several occasions, reduces alcohol intake in male and female rats. This reduction is over half of what they drank before. All rats have consumed alcohol for over 10 weeks before treatment, indicating that they are ‘addicted’ to alcohol (as much as an animal can be).”
Furthermore, the researchers explored how semaglutide affected alcohol consumption after a period of abstinence. They deprived the rats of alcohol for nine days and then administered semaglutide. The researchers then observed the rats’ response upon reintroducing alcohol, gauging whether they would revert to their previous drinking patterns.
The study revealed that semaglutide aided in preventing relapse drinking.
Prof. Jerlhag expounded, “We found that semaglutide prevents relapse drinking in both sexes. Relapse drinking is a huge problem in patients with alcohol use disorder. They abstain from alcohol, a white period, and then they start drinking more once they start. This is also seen in rodents. This is prevented by semaglutide.”
In addition to reduced alcohol consumption, both male and female rats experienced weight loss, a common effect of semaglutide.
Further investigations explored the underlying mechanisms involved in this phenomenon, although male mice were employed, not for the alcohol intake experiments conducted on rats. Researchers speculate that the impact of semaglutide on male mice would likely resemble the observed effects.
Prof. Jerlhag explicated the potential underlying mechanisms uncovered by the study, stating, “We found that semaglutide prevents the reward from alcohol, and this might be the mechanism contributing to the reduced alcohol intake observed. We [also] found that semaglutide acts via a reward area [in the brain] called nucleus accumbens.”
It is worth noting that this study primarily employed rats and mice, and while animal studies provide valuable insights, further research is necessary to determine applicability to humans.
Additionally, the study did not include female mice, thereby limiting the available data. The effect of semaglutide on drinking habits and relapse was not examined in male mice.
The findings suggest that semaglutide works by diminishing the rewarding sensation typically associated with alcohol consumption. However, other factors could have contributed to the observed results.
Further research is warranted to comprehensively grasp the underlying factors and the differential responses between males and females.
Prof. Jerlhag noted that future research should encompass “clinical studies in patients with alcohol use disorder, preferably those who are overweight.”
She stated, “That would show that it can be used clinically. Studies on other addictive drugs are needed. Is the effect similar?”
In conclusion, the data offer hope for individuals grappling with alcohol use disorder and even those struggling with other addictive substances.
Psychiatrist Dr. Josh Lichtman, the medical director at Neuro Wellness Spa, who was not involved in the study, expressed his views on the research, stating, “The findings of this study are potentially very promising when it comes to patient care. Semaglutide could be a potential treatment option for patients with alcohol use disorders. It can reduce alcohol consumption, prevent relapse-like drinking during alcohol withdrawal, and attenuate alcohol-related reward responses. The drug’s ability to decrease intake and preference for rewarding foods suggests a broader suppressive effect on motivation for rewards, which may be beneficial for individuals with addictive behaviors beyond alcohol.”
Alcohol consumption is prevalent across numerous cultures and countries, but excessive intake poses significant health risks, including organ damage, such as liver and heart problems, and an increased susceptibility to certain cancers.
Individuals with alcohol use disorder face difficulties in quitting or reducing their alcohol consumption. Addressing alcohol use disorder often necessitates a multifaceted approach involving various strategies and specialized assistance.
Dr. Lichtman explained to MNT that alcohol use disorder “continues to be a major problem” and that individuals with severe cases often require medical detoxification due to the potentially life-threatening nature of alcohol withdrawal.
He advised, “Focused and intensive outpatient treatment programs and residential treatment programs can be extremely helpful for patients who are ready and motivated to get clean. Sober living programs can also be very helpful, and community support groups like AA, Dharma Recovery, Refuge Recovery, and Smart Recovery, can be very helpful as well.”