Latest developments in causes and treatments



Liraglutide and Semaglutide Show Promise in the Treatment of Opioid Use Disorder and Alcohol Use Disorder

The internet is buzzing with news of a very small drug study with some very promising results. The survey size is 20 adult volunteers, all of whom were being treated for opioid use disorder. Ten of them received a placebo and 10 were given liraglutide, a GLP-1 agonist similar to semaglutide, a GLP-1 agonist prescribed under brand names Wegovy and Ozempic.

According to researchers, the desire for opiates was 30% lower in those receiving liraglutide than in the placebo group. The higher the dosage of liraglutide, the more people dropped out of the study due to abdominal distress. The study was funded, in part, by Novo Nordisk, “the pharma company that manufactures liraglutide,” and partly by a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

A recent study showed that people taking semaglutide for obesity also demonstrated reduced alcohol consumption. This has revealed a potential use for GLP-1 drugs to be used as a treatment for alcohol use disorder, and a number of studies are underway. A review in Frontiers in Pharmacology recently reported that “the results support the hypothesis that the GLP-1 pathway regulates the processes of alcohol use disorder (AUD).”

The University of North Carolina is conducting trials on the use of semaglutide as a stop-smoking treatment or nicotine addiction treatment. An article in The Atlantic describes anecdotal evidence that Ozempic, Wegovy and other semaglutide drugs reduce compulsive shopping.

A recent study with the longest name I’ve ever seen may shed light on why semaglutide and liraglutide are calming down the brain’s reward mechanism. Ruth Hanssen led a team of researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Metabolism Research in Cologne, Germany, in conducting a “single-blinded, randomized, controlled, crossover basic human functional magnetic resonance imaging study.” That’s a lot of vocabulary!

What they found was that “liraglutide restores impaired associative learning in individuals with obesity.” That is a fascinating outcome, since an impairment in associative learning is indicated by many compulsive behaviors. This is what the researchers say:

Together, these observations suggest that a lack of integration of peripheral metabolic signals into dopamine function could contribute to maladaptive behaviour, as seen in obesity, particularly by disrupting the sensitivity of learning mechanisms to physiological needs.

The authors go on to state, “Intriguingly, recent evidence suggests that GLP-1 receptor agonists augment glucose-dependent insulin release and can restore motivational behaviour in insulin-resistant humans.” How was this measured? Brain scans! Yes, using fMRI, participants completed “a sensory associative learning task.” Some received liraglutide and others received a placebo.

The researchers concluded: “Liraglutide normalizes the adaptive learning rate and adaptive prediction error in individuals with impaired insulin sensitivity to the level of insulin-sensitive individuals.” Unlocking the ways in which the brain’s reward system is damaged by abuse and thereafter restored is one of the great goals of addiction science and, therefore, AddictionNews.

Written by Steve O’Keefe. First published February 26, 2024.


“Taking a weight-loss drug reduced a craving for opioids,” Science News, February 17, 2024.

“Exploring Liraglutide’s Potential in Reducing Opioid Cravings: An Emerging Avenue for Opioid Addiction Treatment,” Medriva, February 21, 2024.

“Semaglutide and Tirzepatide reduce alcohol consumption in individuals with obesity,” Scientific Reports, November 28, 2023.

“The therapeutic potential of glucagon-like peptide-1 for persons with addictions based on findings from preclinical and clinical studies,” Frontiers in Pharmacology, March 2023.

“Can Ozempic Help With Other Addictions?” AddictionNews, November 22, 2023.

“Liraglutide restores impaired associative learning in individuals with obesity,” Nature Metabolism, August 2023.

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