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  • Writer's pictureDr. Harold Pierre

Could Ozempic, Mounjaro and the Weight-Loss drug Wegovy Curb Addiction?

Updated: Jan 11

Could Ozempic Help Curb Addiction?

Addiction is one tough illness to beat. It changes the brain in ways that make people lose control over activities like drinking alcohol, gambling or using illegal drugs. Addiction shrinks the prefrontal cortex. That part of the brain behind your forehead is super important. The prefrontal cortex is like the control room of the brain. The prefrontal cortex helps with stuff like making plans, controlling impulses, deciding things, emotions, and your personality. When it gets smaller, it's harder to think straight and make good choices. Shrinking this key part of the brain makes it tough to control urges and judgment, slips. It also ramps up motivation circuits, making people obsess over alcohol, drugs, gambling or other habits. Even when they want to stop, powerful cravings take over and make quitting extremely hard.

2 boxes of Ozempic 1 mg injections on a beige background

Despite programs to help people recover, most end up relapsing to their destructive behaviors. Even though there's been a lot of attempts to fix it, the number of people dying from opioid overdoses keeps going up. We really need to find better ways to get addiction under control.

Could Ozempic (semaglutide) and the similar drug Mounjaro (tirzepatide) be a solution? Well, my interest is in addiction medicine and implementing all of the available tools used to treat addiction to help my patients. Several years ago, I read an interesting article describing how laboratory monkeys receiving drugs mimicking the intestinal hormone glucagon-like-peptide-1 significantly reduced alcohol consumption. When one of my

patients continued to struggle with alcohol despite using a multidisciplinary approach, I prescribed Ozempic. Within weeks, his alcohol consumption and gambling dramatically decreased. His level of concentration also improved. Although this was an anecdotal case, I was convinced from that point that GLP-1 agonist drugs had a direct effect on the reward center of the brain helping people drink less.

In this article, learn how Ozempic (semaglutide), and similar drugs, can help with substance abuse. Use this information to talk to your doctor about whether semaglutide is right for you.

What Exactly is Semaglutide (Ozempic)?

The diabetes medicine semaglutide is the generic name for Ozempic. It is in a class of drugs known as GLP-1 receptor agonists. These drugs attach to receptors for a hormone named glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1). GLP-1 hormone is made naturally in your body

after you eat food. When semaglutide sticks to the GLP-1 receptors, it triggers your pancreas to release insulin. While mainly used for diabetes treatment, drugs like semaglutide also promote weight loss. Here’s an overview of what makes semaglutide unique:

Made to Mimic a Hormone

Like other GLP-1 drugs, semaglutide is engineered to replicate the effects of the intestinal hormone GLP-1. Our bodies naturally produce GLP-1 when we eat, signaling to the pancreas to release insulin to control blood sugar. GLP-1 also reduces appetite. Semaglutide produces similar actions, lowering glucose levels and food intake.

Approved Uses

Semaglutide is FDA approved for managing type 2 diabetes and obesity. The brand names are Ozempic for diabetes and a higher dose called Wegovy for weight management. Both are injected under the skin once weekly.

How Ozempic Compares

Other GLP-1 receptor agonists prescribed include:

  • Byetta (exenatide) - twice daily injection

  • Trulicity (dulaglutide) - once weekly injection

  • Victoza (liraglutide) - once daily injection

  • Mounjaro (tirzepatide) – once weekly injection

  • Adlyxin (Lixisenatide) - once daily injection

Like these drugs, semaglutide helps control blood sugar and suppresses appetite.

However, research indicates semaglutide:

  • Lasts longer in the body, enabling once weekly dosing

  • Has higher potency at the GLP-1 receptor

  • Causes more weight loss compared to most other options. Mounjaro has been found to cause the most weight loss at the current FDA maximum doses.

An oral semaglutide pill was recently approved too, offering dosing flexibility.

How Drugs Like Ozempic Work

Ozempic and similar drugs essentially trick the body into believing it has elevated levels of the hormone GLP-1. It activates GLP-1 receptors located throughout the body including the pancreas, stomach, and brain. This stimulates insulin secretion from the pancreas to lower glucose. In the stomach, it promotes feelings of fullness and delays digestion to reduce calorie intake. Ozempic also acts directly on appetite control centers in the brain to diminish hunger for food and liquids. Through these mechanisms, it can effectively manage both diabetes and obesity.

How Might Ozempic and other GLP-1 Drugs Treat Addiction?

Emerging research suggests Ozempic impacts key brain areas and chemical messengers involved in drug and alcohol addiction:

The Reward Center

The brain’s mesolimbic dopamine system, connecting the ventral tegmental area and nucleus accumbens, is the central reward circuit. All addictive substances flood this pathway with the neurotransmitter dopamine, creating euphoria and reinforcement that drive compulsive use.

Animal studies reveal use of semaglutide blocks alcohol from elevating dopamine levels in the nucleus accumbens, associated with reward. Semaglutide also prevented animals from developing conditioned preferences for locations linked to alcohol or cocaine exposure.

By inhibiting dopamine signaling, drugs like Ozempic may help curb the euphoric, rewarding effects of substances that promote addictive behaviors.

Could the Weight-Loss Drug Ozempic Help Curb Addiction

Research gives us some insight on how Ozempic treat addiction. The data shows Ozempic lowers voluntary drug consumption across different species:

  • Ozempic decreased alcohol drinking in mice, rats, and monkeys tested in binge and chronic drinking models.

  • It also reduced rats’ self-administration of alcohol, nicotine, cocaine, and prescription opioids like oxycodone, indicating lower motivation to take these drugs.

Suppressing dopamine reward likely plays a role in decreasing intake. But Ozempic may also act directly in regions governing craving, motivation, and habit-like seeking.

Brain Chemicals

Besides dopamine, Ozempic further influences GABA - the brain’s main inhibitory chemical messenger.

  • In alcohol-naive rats, Ozempic enhanced GABA transmission in the amygdala and prefrontal cortex involved in emotion, stress, and self-control.

  • But in rats exposed long-term to alcohol, Ozempic had mixed impacts on GABA signaling, increasing it in some neurons while decreasing it in others.

Chronic substance abuse disrupts GABA function in multiple brain areas, contributing to loss of control over use. Normalizing these disturbances may improve self-regulation over addictive behaviors.

Thinking Abilities

GLP-1 receptors are abundant in the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, critical areas for learning, memory, and skills like decision-making and self-control. Impairments in these cognitive domains perpetuate the addiction cycle.

Activating GLP-1 receptors with Ozempic may restore these faculties and strengthen top-down inhibitory control over substance use. This unique mechanism sets it apart from current addiction medications.

In summary, Ozempic may reduce cravings and compulsions via interconnected effects on dopamine reward signaling, GABA modulation, motivation circuits, and bolstering cognitive abilities degraded by addiction.

Emerging Clinical Research on Ozempic for Addiction

While animal findings are promising, research testing Ozempic for substance use disorders in people remains limited:

  • A small pilot study discovered adding the GLP-1 drug exenatide to nicotine replacement therapy boosted smoking cessation success and lessened cravings and post-quit weight gain compared to placebo.

  • In a trial of exenatide for alcohol use disorder, exenatide did not improve drinking overall but did reduce drinking in overweight patients specifically.

  • Case reports document benefits of the GLP-1 medication liraglutide for cocaine and methamphetamine dependence.

  • One case study suggests Ozempic may curb problematic nail biting linked to diabetes.

Larger controlled studies are required to conclusively validate if Ozempic has efficacy for addiction treatment. Some current clinical investigations include:

  • Researchers at the University of North Carolina testing if Ozempic decreases cravings and brain responses to drug cues in opioid use disorder.

  • Novo Nordisk, the maker of Ozempic and Wegovy, running a trial of Ozempic for methamphetamine dependence.

  • A study combining Ozempic with buprenorphine for opioid use disorder. This is particular interest to me since my area of focus is treating opioid use disorder and chronic pain with buprenorphine.

How Could Ozempic Help Patients With Addiction?

Addiction word collected with wooden cubes and medicines. Drug addict, obsession to pharmaceutical substances or narcotics or anxiety pills

If research bears out, Ozempic might offer advantages over currently available addiction treatments:

Fewer Doses

Many addiction medications must be taken daily or multiple times a day, which can hinder adherence. Ozempic requires only 1 weekly injection, which may promote better compliance.

Ease Withdrawal and Cravings

Quitting drugs or alcohol triggers cravings and withdrawal discomfort, often leading to relapse. By modulating dopamine and GABA, Ozempic may alleviate these issues and support abstinence.

Prevent Weight Gain

People often gain weight after stopping smoking, gambling or drinking alcohol. Semaglutide, as mentioned earlier, is also a weight-loss drug. It reduces the desire to eat and curb cravings for food. It could prevent post-cessation weight gain that fuels relapse.

Cognitive Enhancement

Addiction erodes executive functions like focus, memory, planning, and impulse control. Some evidence indicates using Ozempic can strengthen these faculties, bolstering self-control over substance use. People taking ozempic report the elimination of the "noise" in their head that draws them back to their addictive behaviors like thinking of drinking alcohol, gambling, or food. With the "noise" gone, they can focus on productive tasks.

Rapid Adoption Potential

Because Semaglutide is already FDA approved for diabetes and obesity, it could potentially be swiftly incorporated into addiction treatment settings if proven beneficial.

Dual Action

For people with alcohol use disorder and overeating, Semaglutide may concurrently improve substance use and overeating by targeting overlapping brain mechanisms.

While research is still limited, Ozempic shows significant promise as an innovative medication strategy for curbing substance use disorders and addictive behaviors. Larger clinical trials are critically needed to validate if this diabetes and obesity drug can provide a lifeline to those battling addiction.

I am Here to Help

I lead a team with decades of experience, and a commitment to providing you with comfort, care, and respect as you navigate this challenging time in your life. We also make treatment super convenient with hours of operation that extend from 0800 AM to 0900 PM, 7 days a week through scheduled appointments, accept most insurances, making addiction treatment accessible to practically all who call. I am waiting for your call.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Ozempic?

A: Ozempic is a diabetes drug used for diabetes treatment and weight loss.

Can Ozempic treat addiction?

A: The diabetes medication Ozempic may help curb addiction, but researchers are still studying this use. It could one day be part of an addiction treatment plant. It is not FDA approved to treat addiction.

Are there other drugs like Ozempic?

A: Yes, there are new weight-loss drugs and diabetes medications like Ozempic, such as Mounjaro and Wegovy. Lesser known drugs include dulaglutide, Exenatide, Exenatide, and Liraglutide.

How does Ozempic work?

A: Ozempic and similar drugs bind to GLP-1 receptors in the body to control blood sugar.

What are the new weight-loss drugs like Ozempic?

A: Wegovy is one of the new weight-loss drugs that contain the same active ingredient as Ozempic. Both Ozempic and Wegovy can cost a lot, though. However, compounded generic alternatives are considerably cheaper.

Are there any patients with addiction using Ozempic?

A: Some patients with addiction are taking Ozempic in clinical trials to see if it helps.

Ozempic still primarily used for diabetes management?

A: Yes, Ozempic is still mainly used as a diabetes drug for treating diabetes.

What does 'curb cravings' mean in the context of Ozempic and addiction treatment?

A: To 'curb cravings' means Ozempic might help control the desire to drink alcohol, eat too much, or use more drugs.

What should someone seeking treatment for addiction do?

A: They should contact their doctor to find out whether Ozempic is right for them. There are many treatment providers who can help people with addiction. You can Google "Addiction Doctor Near Me" or give us a call at 918-518-1636.

About the author:

Dr. Harold Pierre is a board-certified anesthesiologist and addiction medicine specialist with over 20 years of experience. He is board-certified by the American Board of Anesthesiology and the American Board of Preventive Medicine.

This website is provided for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute providing medical advice or professional services. The information provided should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, and those seeking personal medical advice should consult with a licensed physician or another qualified medical professional. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

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