Some people on Ozempic lose the desire to drink. Scientists are asking why
During what Eva Monsen calls peak drinking — during the long stretch of the coronavirus pandemic — she drank about half a bottle a day. Munson, 46, was not a regular drinker before the pandemic, but she has come to rely on a few glasses of wine to help her relax and manage the stress of life during and after lockdown.
Then, in August 2022, Monsen's endocrinologist prescribed Ozempic to treat her diabetes. Almost immediately, she said, she lost the urge to drink. When she poured herself a glass of wine, “I didn't feel happy at all,” she said.
A part of her missed the comforting blur of drunkenness. However, when she tried drinking while taking Ozempic, she felt dizzy and nauseous — but not intoxicated. “I just couldn't feel the buzz,” said Monson, who lives in Seattle. Now, she hardly drinks.
As Ozempic gains attention and more people use off-label diabetes medications to lose weight, doctors say many patients are reporting a similar experience: They start taking the drug and then stop drinking.
“That's definitely something I've heard a lot of patients say, usually positively,” said Dr. Robert Gabe, chief scientific and medical officer for the American Diabetes Association.
Tina Zarpour, 46, who works at a museum in San Diego, used to have a glass of wine while cooking a few times a week. But after starting Wegovy, a diet pill containing semaglutide, the active ingredient in Ozempic, in 2021, she found she was “rejected” by alcohol, she said. She will try to have a drink, but has a hard time finishing it. “Like, uh, I don't want to,” she said.
Even at social events like birthday lunches, where she usually has a cocktail or two, she can't drink them. She ordered tea at the end. “I just didn't expect it,” she said of her newfound aversion to alcohol. But she said she appreciates efforts to cut back on her drinking.
Scientists are working to understand why people like Zarpour experience this side effect. There are some clues: Semaglutide belongs to a class of drugs called glucagon-like peptide 1 receptor agonists, which mimic a hormone in our body that makes us feel full. Semaglutide helps control insulin and blood sugar levels and may also affect areas of the brain that regulate our food cravings, said Dr. Janice Jin Hwang, chief of the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. Some people who take Ozempic report feeling less aroused or, in some cases, even disgusted with foods they used to enjoy. It's unclear why this response extended to alcohol.
Almost all existing research on GLP-1 receptor agonists and alcohol in the past decade has been done in animals, using compounds similar but not identical to semaglutide. Rats, mice, and monkeys that received the GLP-1 receptor agonist drank less alcohol and had less alcohol cravings than rats, mice, and monkeys that did not take the drug. (Animal studies involving these chemicals and drugs such as nicotine, opioids and cocaine have reported similar findings.)
However, results from animal studies often don't translate directly to humans, said Christian Hendershot, an associate professor of psychiatry at the UNC School of Medicine who is studying whether semaglutide affects alcohol consumption in people with alcohol use disorder. But when patient anecdotes dovetail with animal data, “it's a signal that you're on to something,” he said.
Several human studies with alcohol and drugs such as Ozempic are underway. Danish researchers, some of whom previously received research funding from Novo Nordisk, the company that makes Ozempic, recently published the results of a clinical trial testing another GLP-1 receptor agonist in patients with alcohol use disorder. agent. The study included nearly 130 people and examined whether those who received the compound and cognitive behavioral therapy drank less than those who received a placebo and treatment.
Both groups showed reduced alcohol consumption, but those diagnosed with obesity who received the GLP-1 compound and treatment consumed significantly less alcohol than those who received a placebo and treatment alone.
Until there is clearer scientific guidance, people taking Ozempic can only navigate the sometimes unexpected ways the drug affects them. Even some people who drank alcohol in moderation before starting Ozempic found themselves avoiding alcohol. J. Paul Grayson, 73, of Clayton, Oklahoma, used to keep six-packs of beer in the back of his refrigerator. But after three months of using Ozempic, he stopped buying alcohol except when eating out. He used to have two beers with dinner — one when he first sat down and one about halfway through the meal — but now, he says, he can barely finish the first beer.
He had expected his eating habits to change once he started taking the drug—he was less interested in fatty, sugary foods and found himself eating less—but he didn't expect to abhor alcohol.
“That's what surprised me,” he said. “It makes you want to do all the things your doctor told you to do with your life.”
Written by Dani Blum. This article originally appeared in The New York Times.