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GLP-1s Could Help Treat Alcohol Abuse, Study Shows

GLP-1s Could Help Treat Alcohol Abuse, Study Shows

A global phenomenon for their weight-loss effects, GLP1-s could also prove to be a powerful tool in curbing alcohol abuse by acting on parts of the brain that trigger problematic drinking habits

GLP-1s are making global headlines for their impressive weight-loss powers, but they might also be effective in helping people kick alcohol dependency.

A new study released by Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine finds that the use of GLP-1 drugs is correlated with lower occurrences of alcohol abuse. 

In 2022, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed that 28.8 million United States adults aged 18 and older suffered from AUD, or alcohol use disorder in 2021. AUD is one of the leading causes of disease across the globe yet there are currently only three medications currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat the disorder: acamprosate, disulfiram, and naltrexone. However, the results for these drugs are “modest” and “inconsistent,” according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. 

Semaglutide, one of the medications within the class of GLP-1s, or glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists, was shown to reduce the desire for binge-like and dependence-induced alcohol consumption in a rodent model in 2023. The researchers at Case Western decided to test this theory on people, publishing a retrospective cohort study of 83,825 patients with obesity.

GLP-1 drugs replicate the gut hormone GLP-1, which assists with insulin secretion and helps increase feelings of fullness after eating. While GLP-1s are typically prescribed to help treat diabetes, regulate blood sugar, and assist with weight loss, they have now been brought to the table as a possible treatment for alcohol abuse disorder. 

Dr. Lorenzo Leggio and Dr. Leandro Vendruscolo, the 2023 rat model study’s senior authors, said there are overlaps between overeating and substance use behaviors.

“Parts of the brain that drive eating behaviors overlap extensively with the drive to use alcohol or other substances,” Dr. Leggio said.

The Case Western researchers conducted their retrospective study from patient electronic health records and found that many individuals taking GLP-1s, specifically semaglutide, experienced reduced “incidence and recurrence” of alcohol use disorder. 

The team also took a look at patient records of 600,000 individuals with type 2 diabetes and discovered similar findings. Those treated with semaglutide experienced fewer AUD diagnoses. 

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The study’s authors say that while the findings are consistent, there’s still more work to be done. 

“While the findings are promising and provide preliminary evidence of the potential benefit of semaglutide in AUD in real-world populations, further randomized clinical trials are needed to support its use clinically for AUD,”  said Case Western research professor Pamela Davis.

Still, Rong Xu, a professor of biomedical informatics at Case Western, notes that the studies are hopeful for individuals with alcohol use disorder. 

“This is very promising news in that we may have a new therapeutic method to treat AUD,” Xu said.

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