When Erin Bradley McAleer used to attend work-related sporting events and mixers, he would “almost religiously” consume eight to ten beers.
McAleer, a 43-year-old criminal defense attorney in Washington state, told Insider, “If I had one, I had eight.” With a height of 6 feet and a weight of 320 pounds, he could hold his liquor.
But during the past year, McAleer has limited himself to two or three drinks, if he even attends social occasions. Currently, going to the gym or spending time with his family are frequently more appealing to him.
McAleer did not outgrow his drinking habit, reduce his consumption, or experience an embarrassing drinking-related incident. What changed then?
McAleer stated that he no longer has a physical urge for alcohol, which he believes is an unintended but not undesirable side effect of semaglutide and comparable medications.
Since he began taking the pills in the fall of 2021, McAleer stated, “I’m just not interested after a couple of beers.” I’ve never experienced that before.
McAleer is not the first patient to report a significant decrease in alcohol use after beginning treatment with semaglutide. One Reddit member stated that taking semaglutide was “like flipping a light switch” when compared to their previous nightly consumption of two to three alcoholic beverages. They have consumed three alcoholic beverages in the past three months. “No excitement, no pleasure,” they wrote. “I guess I’m a non-drinker now.”
Another poster commented, “I was always perplexed when I saw folks take all night to consume one drink.” Now I can empathize completely.
Dr. Paul Kolodzik, a metabolic specialist in Ohio who is also board-certified in addiction medicine, told Insider that the drug “may be the next big thing in addiction management, certainly related to alcohol”
McAleer attempted to reduce weight after a “stroke of the eye” threatened to render him completely or partially blind.
Semaglutide, marketed under the brand names Wegovy and Ozempic, is an injectable medication that stimulates the production of insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar. While both medications were initially designed to aid in the management of diabetes, in June 2021, Wegovy was also approved as a weight-loss medication.
Experts in obesity medicine have referred to the drug as a “game-changer.” According to research, it can result in a 15% to 20% weight loss over the course of 68 weeks.
In August of 2021, Erin Bradley McAleer celebrated his 20th wedding anniversary with his wife and daughters. A few weeks later, an eye stroke pushed him to put his health first.
Thank you to Erin Bradley McAleer
McAleer discovered the substance in late summer 2021, following a health concern. After waking up with half vision in one eye one morning, he was diagnosed with a “eye stroke.” The disorder arises when there is insufficient blood flow to the tissues around the optic nerve; it is frequently an indication of poor vascular health.
Doctor warned McAleer that if he did not reduce weight, he ran the chance of being blind. That was a “wake-up call,” said McAleer, who had been yo-yo dieting for several years but continually regaining weight.
Therefore, McAleer consulted a physician acquaintance who suggested he try Saxenda, a brand of liraglutide that belongs to the same drug class as semaglutide but is not yet licensed for weight loss. McAleer initially purchased the medication from his acquaintance, but quickly switched to Ozempic because it was cheaper in Mexico, where he frequently traveled. Since beginning treatment, he has shed over 80 pounds.
While McAleer was glad to see his weight decrease and blood work improve, he was initially “a little annoyed” to see his interest in drinking diminish. He believed a low-level buzz was necessary for basketball games with noisy friends. But he has learnt to cherish his life without alcohol.
“It helped me to realize that many of these events are enjoyable without a buzz, depending on who I was with,” he remarked.
The substance affects the brain’s reward center.
Some of Kolodzik’s weight-loss patients no longer suffer alcohol cravings when taking semaglutide, he told Insider. Similar results have been shown in investigations with rats.
There are several probable explanations. GLP-1 receptor agonists, such as semaglutide, “promote satiety in both the stomach and the brain,” Kolodzik explained. This can also decrease food cravings in addition to alcohol desires.
Dr. Joseph Volpicelli, a psychiatrist and addiction-medication researcher at Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania, told Insider that the pills also influence the brain’s reward circuit, dampening the dopamine rush one might otherwise receive from a greasy french fry, hot fudge sundae, or filthy martini.
“Delightful things are no longer as pleasurable,” he remarked.
Insufficient human research exists for the FDA to approve semaglutide as a therapy for alcoholism. The single double-blind, placebo-controlled experiment — the most stringent research design — did not detect a significant reduction in the number of heavy drinking days in addiction patients taking a GLP-1 receptor agonist compared to those taking a placebo.
It did, however, reveal that the medicine inhibited the brain’s sensitivity to alcohol cues, which can result in fewer cravings. It was also shown that GLP-1 agonists were most effective in reducing alcohol consumption among overweight people, “so it may be beneficial for specific subgroups,” said Volpicelli, who was not involved in the study.
Volpicelli hypothesizes that moderate alcohol-use disorder sufferers may be another population that could benefit the most. As opposed to long-term heavy drinkers, they tend to drink more for the buzz and less for the treatment of withdrawal symptoms. The study did not discriminate between the two groups, which may have diminished the significance of the results.
“I suppose there were some individuals who, despite not experiencing a high from alcohol consumption, still experienced relief from withdrawal symptoms,” he explained. This explains why they continued drinking.
The potential of semaglutide in addiction medicine, according to Volpicelli, is “very exciting,” but “we need to conduct additional research and plan the study correctly.”
In the meantime, he claims that naltrexone, a medicine that inhibits the euphoric effects of alcohol, is FDA-approved and effective. Volpicelli stated, “We already have something out there, so I would test that first.”
Some physicians are unwilling to wait for the research.
Kolodzik stated that he had the necessary proof to feel confident giving semaglutide to some patients in his addiction-medicine practice.
By taking naltrexone on the days she drank, one patient, who had previously had approximately 45 drinks per week, was able to halve her intake. According to Kolodzik, when semaglutide was administered, her weekly consumption dropped to three to five drinks.
“Patients express this by saying, ‘Alcohol used to be the focal point of my day, but now I’m just disinterested'” Kolodzik stated.
However, the medicine is not a panacea. In the case of Ozempic, it is expensive and not reimbursed by insurance if you do not meet certain conditions, such as having diabetes. Additionally, it may cause nausea and diarrhea.
And you cannot simply inject it and forget about it, added Kolodzik. For semaglutide to be most effective, alcohol patients should take the drug as part of a comprehensive treatment strategy that may also involve therapy and apps that help measure their intake.
However, according to Kolodzik, the potential risks of off-label semaglutide use are outweighed by the potential harms of alcohol dependence.
“Medicine changes extremely slowly,” Kolodzik said, “but there are individuals like me who believe there’s no reason not to attempt something if there’s no risk.”