Semaglutide, otherwise known as Wegovy or Ozempic, may not only help people to lose weight or manage their diabetes, but could also benefit those with alcohol use disorder (AUD), new research suggests. The small study, involving just six patients, marks the first published evidence in humans that the drug specifically mitigates the symptoms of AUD.
“This research marks a significant step forward in our understanding of the potential therapeutic applications of semaglutide in the field of addiction medicine,” said the lead author, Dr Jesse Richards, in a statement.
Semaglutide belongs to a class of drugs called incretins. These are metabolic hormones that are released into the bloodstream within minutes of eating and have essential physiological roles, including the regulation of insulin and blood glucose levels – hence it has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of diabetes under the name Ozempic.
The drug mimics the gut hormone GLP-1, binding to its receptors in the brain and stomach, and as such also acts to slow stomach emptying and decrease appetite – under the name Wegovy, it was approved by the FDA as a weight loss drug back in 2021.
Recently, researchers have begun to investigate whether semaglutide could have broader medical applications, including for treating addiction. Studies in rodents and monkeys have hinted this may be the case, and patients taking the drug for weight loss or diabetes have reported a reduced urge to drink alcohol, but until now no research had been published to demonstrate this.
The new study, however, followed the outcomes of six AUD patients receiving semaglutide as part of a weight loss treatment program, and found that there was a significant improvement in their alcohol-related symptoms.
When the researchers compared their Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test (AUDIT) scores before and after receiving semaglutide, there was an average reduction of 9.5 points, with all six patients significantly improving their scores.
Although the study was very small, and much more research is needed, these findings pave the way for placebo-controlled clinical trials, senior author Dr Kyle Simmons explained. In fact, trials are already underway, including one led by Simmons called STAR (Semaglutide Therapy for Alcohol Reduction).
“With the publication of this case series […], the stage is set for future clinical trials, such as the STAR studies, which can definitively tell us whether semaglutide is safe and effective for treatment of alcohol use disorder.”
AUD is a major cause of preventable death worldwide, and yet there are currently only three pharmacotherapies approved by the FDA, the study authors note in their paper. In light of this, semaglutide could offer a much-needed treatment option for those struggling with the condition.
The study is published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.