Nearly a year ago, Christie Martin, a 58-year-old mother and realtor from Las Vegas, embarked on a journey to shed excess weight by using Ozempic, a medication designed for weight loss. To her astonishment, within just a few months of starting the treatment, she had already shed over 30 pounds. However, along with her weight loss, Martin experienced an unexpected side effect – a drastic reduction in her desire to consume alcohol.
Before her Ozempic journey, Martin had developed a habit of consuming nearly a bottle of wine every night after work. This routine had become a part of her daily life, and she thoroughly enjoyed her evening wine. But as the medication took effect, her craving for alcohol diminished.
Martin explained, “I did not want to drink anymore. I went to the grocery store, and I didn’t even want to buy a bottle of wine. I would even go out with friends, coworkers, and clients, and maybe I would try to order a glass of wine at dinner, and I couldn’t even finish it. It just didn’t sit well with me.”
Prior to taking Ozempic, Martin was someone who enjoyed wine at lunch and considered it a “reward” after a long day of work and single parenting. She admitted that her drinking had been “an issue” before starting the medication, though she had never been formally diagnosed with alcohol use disorder.
Martin’s experience is not isolated. A recent small-scale case study revealed that six individuals who screened positive for alcohol use disorder observed a significant decrease in symptoms while using semaglutide, the active ingredient found in Ozempic and another medication called Wegovy, both known for their efficacy in weight loss.
While this case study does not offer conclusive scientific proof that these drugs can effectively treat alcohol use disorder, it underscores the necessity for larger, randomized clinical trials currently in their early stages.
Alcohol use disorder is a medical condition characterized by the inability to control or cease alcohol consumption despite adverse consequences. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s 2022 National Survey of Drug Use and Health, nearly 30 million individuals over the age of 12 in the United States suffer from alcohol use disorder.
Semaglutide, the active ingredient in Ozempic and Wegovy, is a GLP-1 receptor agonist medication that has gained popularity in recent times due to its effectiveness in promoting weight loss. Although Ozempic is primarily approved for Type 2 diabetes treatment alongside diet and exercise, it can also be prescribed off-label for individuals struggling with obesity. Wegovy, a closely related injectable drug, is specifically approved for patients dealing with severe obesity or overweight individuals with weight-associated conditions such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
Both medications function by slowing down food movement through the stomach and reducing appetite, leading to weight loss. Experts speculate that the way semaglutide interacts with the brain, particularly in curbing overeating, may also aid in addressing addictive behaviors like alcohol use.
Dr. Jennifer Ashton, ABC News’ chief medical correspondent, explained, “Theories are that it works in the brain and the rewards center,” emphasizing the potential significance of these drugs in curbing alcohol use.
Besides the health risks associated with excessive alcohol consumption, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services classifies alcohol as a known human carcinogen. Heavy drinking is typically defined as consuming eight or more drinks per week, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Currently, treatment options for alcohol use disorder include FDA-approved medications, behavioral interventions, and tech-based or app-based therapies. Dr. Ashton highlighted the importance of comprehensive treatment for those with substance use disorders.
However, it’s worth noting that the use of semaglutide medications for alcohol use disorder is currently considered off-label, and insurance coverage may not be readily available, making these drugs prohibitively expensive for many individuals. Results from ongoing clinical trials, providing stronger scientific evidence, are anticipated to be available in a year or more, pending approval by regulatory agencies before this indication can be endorsed.
For individuals with concerns about alcohol use, SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) offers a free and confidential 24/7 helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357), as well as online resources at samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline.
This report was contributed to by Dr. Jade A Cobern, M.D., M.P.H., a resident in General Preventive Medicine at Johns Hopkins and a member of the ABC News Medical Unit.