Semaglutide, which is primarily a diabetes drug and has been recently approved for the treatment of obesity, can also help cut alcohol dependence in half, finds a study in mice.
Semaglutide is a long-acting substance that only needs to be taken once a week. This is the first medication to act on the GLP-1 receptor that can be taken in tablet form. It is sold under several brand names including Ozempic and Wegovy.
Anecdotal evidence of patients with obesity or diabetes show that their craving for alcohol has lessened since they started taking the drug.
To better understand, researchers at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, treated alcohol-dependent rats with semaglutide.
The results, published in the scientific journal eBioMedicine, showed that the drug significantly reduced their alcohol consumption and even reduced the drinking of alcohol in conjunction with relapses.
Relapses comprise a major problem for individuals with alcohol dependence, as an individual who has abstained from alcohol for a period relapses and drinks more than before the withdrawal.
The treated rats also cut their alcohol intake in half compared to animals that did not receive treatment. Interestingly, semaglutide reduced alcohol intake equally in both male and female rats.
The study also examined why the medication reduces alcohol drinking. The results indicate that reduced alcohol-induced reward could be a contributing factor.
Semaglutide affected the brain’s reward system in mice, to be more exact 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 that is seen in both humans and animals. This process is blocked by the medication in mice, and with our interpretation, this could cause a reduction in the alcohol-induced reward,” said Cajsa Aranas, doctoral student at Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg.
According to the researchers it is likely that these results will carry over to humans, as results from other studies on alcohol dependence medications made with the same research model have shown similar effect in humans as in rats.
“There are, of course, differences in conducting studies on animals and humans, and these must always be taken into account. However, in this case, there is a previous study on humans in which an older version of the diabetes medications that act on GLP-1 was found to reduce alcohol intake in overweight individuals with alcohol dependence,” said Elisabet Jerlhag, Professor of pharmacology at Sahlgrenska.