New research is under way to evaluate how weight loss drugs Ozempic and Wegovy might help people with alcohol use disorder.

It follows years of anecdotal evidence that semaglutide – the active ingredient in the popular weight loss drugs – also reduces cravings for alcohol.

Since the launch of Ozempic, there have also been reports that it reduces cravings for smoking, nail-biting, and online shopping, as well as food and alcohol.

Now researchers are looking more closely at the alcohol link, with hopes it may help the 280 million people who are affected by alcohol use disorder (AUD) worldwide.

A small study published recently involved six people treated with semaglutide to help them lose weight, who were also affected by alcohol use disorder. The research team found that all the participants showed a considerable reduction in AUD symptoms, even if they didn’t lose much weight.

The study authors are now running another clinical trial in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to evaluate the effectiveness of semaglutide in the treatment of AUD, with another study being carried out in Baltimore, Maryland.

Scientists suspects that these drugs reduce cravings for alcohol by working on the same pathways that lead to a diminished appetite.

Alcohol cravings are thought to be the results of a dopamine hit in the brain that happens when people drink alcohol.

GLP-1 receptors are found in the brain structures that control the reward pathways, and are responsible for controlling the release of the hormone GLP-1. This hormone has a role to play in how we respond to alcohol.

Semaglutide mimics the hormone GLP-1 by letting the body know when it has had enough – that could be food or alcohol.

One of the authors of the Oklahoma study, Jesse Richards, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Oklahoma, said participants reported that when they attended an even where they would normally drink heavily, “instead of drinking their normal amount, they would drink one drink, and then kind of get bored and forget about it”.

The latest trials will also utilise an fMRI scanner to evaluate how brains respond to alcohol cues.

Researchers have stressed that the Oklahoma study, while showing promise, was only a small piece of research, and that further, more extensive studies are needed.

They are also considering whether semaglutide may help with other forms of addiction, such as smoking or drug addiction.

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