Latest developments in causes and treatments



Semaglutide As Potential Addiction Therapy

Semaglutide, a medication primarily known for its role in managing diabetes, is now capturing attention for its potential to tackle addiction. Despite its initial development to regulate blood sugar levels, semaglutide, along with other GLP-1 agonists like Ozempic, Wegovy and Rybelsus, is increasingly being prescribed for weight loss. However, emerging anecdotal evidence suggests a broader spectrum of applications, including addiction treatment.

Three authors, Shalini Arunogiri, Addiction Psychiatrist and Associate Professor, Monash University; Leigh Walker, Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health, and Roberta Anversa, The University of Melbourne, penned an article, published at ScienceDirect, explaining how it works, backing up their opinions with plenty of research. In their article, the authors explain what they looked at specifically and what their main takeaway was:

Our team has reviewed the evidence and found more than 30 different pre-clinical studies have been conducted. The majority show positive results in reducing drug and alcohol consumption or cravings. More than half of these studies focus specifically on alcohol use.

The mechanism of semaglutide revolves around stimulating insulin production to manage glucose levels. However, its action on glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptors has led researchers to explore its impact on addiction. Animal studies have shown promising results, indicating a reduction in drug consumption and cravings, spanning substances like alcohol, nicotine, cocaine, and opioids.

Despite the encouraging animal studies, translating these findings to human subjects presents challenges. While some human studies show positive outcomes, others yield mixed results. For instance, a large randomized controlled trial on alcohol use disorder found no significant difference between GLP-1 agonists and a placebo in reducing alcohol consumption. However, further analysis revealed potential benefits for individuals with both alcohol use problems and obesity.

Similarly, findings on smoking cessation have been inconclusive, but there are indications of reduced alcohol consumption among those receiving GLP-1 agonists. Ongoing clinical trials aim to shed more light on the efficacy of these drugs in addressing addictive disorders across diverse populations.

Understanding the underlying mechanisms of how GLP-1 agonists affect addiction is crucial. Animal studies suggest a role in reducing cravings, possibly by modulating the brain’s reward circuitry. Human brain imaging studies have shown reduced activity in regions associated with craving in response to alcohol cues following GLP-1 agonist administration. However, further research is needed to elucidate the direct impact on craving reduction in humans.

Are these drugs safe to use for addiction? The authors say:

Overall, GLP-1 agonists have been shown to be relatively safe in healthy adults, and in people with diabetes or obesity. However side effects do include nausea, digestive troubles and headaches. And while some people are OK with losing weight as a side effect, others aren’t. If someone is already underweight, for example, this drug might not be suitable for them.

Additionally, rare risks such as pancreatitis need to be carefully considered, especially in populations with existing health concerns like alcohol use disorder.

So, while the potential of semaglutide and other GLP-1 agonists in addiction treatment is promising, more extensive research is needed to confirm their efficacy and safety in diverse populations. Understanding their mechanisms of action and addressing safety concerns are essential steps in harnessing the full therapeutic potential of these medications in combating addiction. As ongoing studies continue to unravel the complexities of addiction treatment, semaglutide stands as a beacon of hope in the quest for effective interventions.

Written by Tatyana Meshcheryakova. First published May 1, 2024.


“Ozempic-Like Drugs Could Help Manage Addiction to Drugs And Alcohol,” ScienceAlert, April 25, 2024.

Image Copyright: Adam Wilson on Unsplash.


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