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Ozempic Maker to Study Its Effect on Alcohol Consumption

Novo Nordisk, the maker of Ozempic, plans to study the drug’s effect on alcohol consumption but says that it won’t focus on addiction specifically. CNN followed the journey of one Ozempic taker, who, like many others, reported that her desire for alcohol and vaping had diminished while she was taking Ozempic. (We also wrote about liraglutide and semaglutide showing promise in the treatment of opioid use disorder and alcohol use disorder.)

According to CNN, when Cheri Ferguson began taking Ozempic last year, she planned to shed about 50 pounds she had gained during the COVID-19 pandemic. Over approximately three months, the medication  —  approved for type 2 diabetes and often used off-label for weight loss — helped quiet the persistent urges to eat, just as she had hoped.

However, it had an unexpected side effect: Ferguson noticed her desire to drink alcohol and use her vape pen also diminished. She said:

It’s like someone’s just come along and switched the light on, and you can see the room for what it is. And all of these vapes and cigarettes that you’ve had over the years, they don’t look attractive anymore. It’s very, very strange. Very strange.

This experience is shared by thousands of others using these medications, which belong to a class known as GLP-1 receptor agonists and are used by an estimated 15 million Americans, according to a recent poll. Now, Novo Nordisk, the maker of Ozempic, plans to study this phenomenon. The company announced it will begin assessing the effects of semaglutide, the active ingredient in Ozempic, and other medications on alcohol consumption in a new clinical trial focusing on alcohol-related liver disease, although reducing alcohol intake is not the main goal.

Since last year, Novo Nordisk has stated it does not plan to study semaglutide — also approved for weight loss as Wegovy — for alcohol addiction, despite numerous anecdotal reports like Ferguson’s and ongoing academic studies. Novo Nordisk reiterated that the primary purpose of its new trial is to evaluate whether the medications can improve liver health, specifically by measuring the effects on enhanced liver fibrosis, or scarring, over 28 weeks.

A company spokesman told CNN:

Secondary endpoints include safety and tolerability and changes in alcohol consumption. There is a significant unmet medical need in alcohol-related liver disease, and the first line of treatment for the condition is lifestyle intervention to refrain from drinking alcohol.

First reported by Bloomberg News, the trial planned to enroll about 240 participants and was scheduled to begin this month.

Researchers in addiction science welcomed the news. Christian Hendershot, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who is running one of the few studies in this area, told CNN:

Those of us doing work in this area see this as a step in the right direction. Additional treatment options for this group are really needed.

Studies in animals suggest a reduction in cravings, according to Dr. Lorenzo Leggio of the National Institutes of Health. He published a study in May 2023 showing that semaglutide reduces alcohol consumption in rodents, noting that the drugs likely reduce the rewarding effects of alcohol, such as those related to dopamine.

Medications for addiction, particularly alcohol use, have not been financially successful for the drug industry, leading to less interest from pharmaceutical companies in developing drugs in this area. Research from financial firm TD Cowen found that less than 5% of the 29 million Americans estimated to have alcohol-use disorder receive drug therapy, due to factors like unfamiliarity among doctors and compliance issues.

“Alcohol is now the leading cause of cirrhosis and liver transplantation in the US,” Dr. Leggio told CNN. “We do need to develop novel treatments for alcohol-associated liver disease itself, plus novel treatments for the underlying medical problem that leads to ALD; that is, alcohol use disorder.”

Novo Nordisk is investigating multiple medications in its new trial on alcohol-related liver disease, including semaglutide, cagrilintide, and zalfermin (listed as NNC0194-0499). Cagrilintide mimics a hormone called amylin and is being tested in combination with semaglutide in large trials for diabetes and weight loss. Zalfermin acts like the metabolic hormone FGF21, mainly produced in the liver.

Despite the slow start of trials on the use of semaglutide and similar medications, the numerous reports of their effects on alcohol consumption prompted researchers to caution in a commentary in the journal Nature Medicine that these drugs should not be prescribed for alcohol-use disorder until proven safe and effective in clinical trials. We’ll stay tuned!

Written by Tatyana Meshcheryakova. First published May 21, 2024.


“Ozempic maker Novo Nordisk says it will study drug’s effects on alcohol consumption but isn’t focused on addiction,” CNN, May 16, 2024.

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

“Novo to Test If Obesity Drugs Can Help People Drink Less Alcohol,” Bloomberg News, May 14, 2024

Image Copyright: Paolo Bendandi on Unsplash.


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