Latest: Unexpected side effect from popular weight loss drugs studied for help with addiction treatment

As drugs like Wegovy and Ozempic have become popular weight loss tools, some doctors and patients are also seeing a surprising side effect: diminished cravings for alcohol. 

Megan Johnston started taking semaglutide, the active ingredient in several brands of weight loss drugs, last year to try to lose weight. The 38-year-old Arlington, Virginia, real estate agent said she gained 30 pounds during the pandemic, and was drinking more too.

“At my check-up last year I remember telling my doctor I was drinking upwards of 15 drinks a week,” Johnston told CBS News.

She’s severely cut back since then.

“Some weeks, none,” she said of her drinking habits these days. “Last week was one. Maybe average three.”

Johnston is among many patients who’ve reported fewer cravings for alcohol while taking semaglutide for weight loss.

“If it turns out that this medication is safe and effective for treating addiction, just by dint of how many people are already taking these medications for other purposes, this would become really the largest and most widely used pharmacotherapy for addiction medicine that’s ever been developed,” said Kyle Simmons, the director of Oklahoma State University’s Biomedical Imaging Center and a professor of pharmacology and physiology.

Simmons is running one of several clinical trials currently underway to examine whether semaglutide reduces cravings for alcohol.

He says the drug affects the brain and appears to remove the pleasure received from drinking alcohol. But he also made it clear, “We just don’t know yet whether or not the medication is safe and effective for the treatment of alcohol use disorder.”

As with most medications, Wegovy and Ozempic also come with the risk of side effects. The most common, according to Ozempic’s website, are nausea, stomach pain, constipation, diarrhea and vomiting.

“Chronic abdominal pain and unpredictable digestive symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea, fullness or constipation can take a significant toll on your mood and energy levels,” Laurie A. Keefer, an academic health psychologist and the Director for Psychobehavioral Research at Mount Sinai’s Division of Gastroenterology, previously told CBS News.

Rarer but more serious side effects of Ozempic may include thyroid tumors, pancreatitis, changes in vision, hypoglycemia, gallbladder issues, kidney failure and cancer.

It’s also unclear how these drugs might affect people after long-term use.

The drugs are also not cheap. In 2023, Wegovy was in short supply and cost around $1,300 a month.

Johnston, however, has been happy with the results.

“I went into it optimistic. Low expectations, and it certainly panned out for me,” she said.

Johnston said she lost 45 pounds over seven months and cut her drinking by 75%.

Sara Moniuszko and Cara Korte contributed reporting.  

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