However, findings from animal research often do not translate directly to humans, said Christian Hendershot, an associate professor of psychiatry at UNC School of Medicine who is studying whether semaglutide can affect how much people with alcohol use disorder drink. But when patient anecdotes line up with animal data, “it’s a signal that you’re on to something,” he said.
A few human studies on alcohol and medications like Ozempic are underway. Researchers in Denmark (some of whom previously received research funding from Novo Nordisk, the company that manufactures Ozempic) recently published the results of a clinical trial that tested another GLP-1 receptor agonist in patients with alcohol use disorder. The study included nearly 130 people and examined whether those who received the compound, alongside cognitive behavioral therapy, drank less than those who received a placebo and therapy.
Both groups showed a decrease in alcohol consumption, but patients diagnosed with obesity who were treated with the GLP-1 compound and therapy dramatically reduced the amount they drank, compared with those who only received the placebo and therapy.
The researchers also examined brain scans from some participants to see what would happen when they looked at pictures of alcohol; in those who took the GLP-1 compound, “the areas of the brain involved with addiction lit up to a much lesser extent,” said Anders Fink-Jensen, a psychiatry professor at the University of Copenhagen and a co-author of the study. More research is needed to determine how medications like Ozempic affect alcohol consumption, but scientists say they are encouraged by the findings so far.
“There’s really a dire need for new treatments for substance abuse disorder,” Dr. Hendershot said.
Until there’s more definitive scientific guidance, people who take Ozempic are left navigating the sometimes unexpected ways that the drug affects them. Even some people who drank moderately before starting Ozempic find themselves avoiding alcohol. J. Paul Grayson, a 73-year-old in Clayton, Okla., used to keep a six-pack of beer tucked in the back of his fridge. But three months after going on Ozempic, he stopped buying alcohol except for when he ate out. He used to have two beers with dinner — one when he first sat down, one about midway through the meal — but now, he said, he can barely sip through the first one.