Some people on Ozempic lose the desire to drink. Scientists ask why.

As the diabetes drug gains more attention, a surprising side effect has emerged.  (Derek Abella/The New York Times)

As the diabetes drug gains more attention, a surprising side effect has emerged. (Derek Abella/The New York Times)

At what Eva Monsen calls the peak of her drinking — during the long slog of the coronavirus pandemic — she downed about half a bottle of wine every day. Monsen, 46, was not a regular drinker before the pandemic, but she has increasingly come to rely on several glasses of wine to help her relax and ease the tension 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 her desire to drink. When she poured herself a glass of wine, “I didn’t enjoy it at all,” she said.

Part of her lacked the reassuring haze of being tipsy. However, when she tried to drink while taking Ozempic, she felt dizzy and nauseous, but not intoxicated. “I just wasn’t able to feel the buzz,” said Monsen, who lives in Seattle. Now she barely drinks.

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As Ozempic gains more attention and more people use the diabetes drug off-label to lose weight, doctors say many patients report similar experiences: They start on the medication and then stop wanting to drink alcohol.

“It’s definitely something I’ve heard many of my patients say, usually in a positive way,” said Dr. Robert Gabbay, chief scientific and medical officer of the American Diabetes Association.

Tina Zarpour, 46, who works at a museum in San Diego, drank a glass of wine a few times a week while she cooked. But after she started taking Wegovy — a weight-loss drug containing semaglutide, the active ingredient in Ozempic — in 2021 — she found herself “repulsed” by alcohol, she said. She would try to have a drink but struggled to finish it. “It was like, ugh, I don’t want to,” she said.

Even at a birthday luncheon, the kind of social event where she would normally enjoy a cocktail or two, she couldn’t bring herself to drink. Finally she ordered tea. “I just wasn’t expecting it,” she said of her newfound aversion to alcohol. But she said she was grateful for the pressure to drink less.

Scientists are trying 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 that mimic a hormone in our body that makes us feel full. Semaglutide helps control insulin and blood sugar levels, and may also affect the areas of the brain that regulate our desire for food, said Dr. Janice Jin Hwang, division chief of endocrinology and metabolism at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. Some people taking Ozempic have reported feeling less aroused or, in some cases, even disgusted with the foods they once enjoyed. It’s unclear why that reaction may extend to alcohol.

Nearly all of the existing research on GLP-1 receptor agonists and alcohol over the past decade has been conducted in animals and with compounds similar to, but not identical to, semaglutide. Rats, mice and monkeys given GLP-1 receptor agonists have been shown to consume less alcohol and have less cravings for it than those not given the medication. (Animal studies with these chemicals and drugs such as nicotine, opioids and cocaine have reported similar findings.)

However, findings from animal research often don’t translate directly to humans, said Christian Hendershot, an associate professor of psychiatry at the UNC School of Medicine, who studies whether semaglutide might affect how much people with alcohol use disorder drink. But when patient anecdotes match animal data, “that’s a signal that you’re onto something,” he said.

Some human studies of alcohol and drugs like Ozempic are underway. Researchers in Denmark (some of whom previously received research funding from Novo Nordisk, the company that produces Ozempic) recently published the results of a clinical trial testing another GLP-1 receptor agonist in patients with an alcohol use disorder. The study involved nearly 130 people and examined whether those who received the compound, in addition to 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 drastically reduced the amount they drank, compared to those who received just the placebo and therapy.

The researchers also examined brain scans of some participants to see what would happen if they looked at pictures of alcohol; in those taking the GLP-1 compound, “the brain regions involved in addiction lit up to a much lesser degree,” said Anders Fink-Jensen, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Copenhagen and a co-author of the study. study . More research is needed to determine how drugs like Ozempic affect alcohol consumption, but scientists say they are encouraged by the findings so far.

“There’s a really great need for new treatments for substance use disorders,” Hendershot said.

Until there is more definitive scientific guidance, people taking Ozempic will continue to navigate the sometimes unexpected ways the drug affects them. Even some people who drank moderately before taking Ozempic find themselves avoiding alcohol. J. Paul Grayson, a 73-year-old in Clayton, Oklahoma, used to keep a six-pack of beer in the back of his refrigerator. But three months after going on Ozempic, he stopped buying alcohol except when he went out to eat. He used to have two beers with dinner — one when he first sat down, one halfway through his meal — but now, he said, he can barely swallow the first.

He had expected his eating habits to change once he started taking the medication — he became less interested in fatty, sugary foods and found himself eating smaller meals — but he hadn’t expected the aversion to alcohol.

“That’s what surprised me,” he said. “It makes you want to do all the things doctors have told you all your life.”

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