Weight-Loss Drugs Show Promise for Treatment of Problem Gambling, Other Addictions

What if a pharmaceutical could offer an answer for people experiencing addictions and compulsive behaviors? That is the question many are asking as an increasing number of patients taking drugs for weight loss have reported an unexpected reduction in addictive or compulsive behaviors.

While the evidence so far is primarily anecdotal, some users of Ozempic, Wegovy, and similar drugs have found the injections that help tame food cravings disappear seem to curb other impulses. Those include alcohol and nicotine use, shopping addiction, skin picking, nail biting, and even compulsive gambling.

As a result of the sheer abundance of addiction-dampening reports, researchers are considering whether the drugs might provide a basis for antiaddiction treatments.

Lorenzo Leggio, a researcher from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, told Scientific American (SA) that the possibility makes a lot of sense.

Semaglutide, branded as Ozempic for diabetes and Wegovy for weight loss, targets a hormone that alerts the body when it is full. Taking the drug also weakens the mental association between food and pleasure. For now, why that occurs is uncertain, but it may explain the reported impact on other cravings and compulsions.

Scientific Data Needed to Back Evidence

Unfortunately, scientific data from human trials probing the evidence is scarce.

Novo Nordisk, maker of Wegovy and Ozempic, has said it’s not planning to run trials to investigate the antiaddiction possibilities.

Eli Lilly, which already makes one similar medication and is developing another, has said the same.

Thankfully, other addiction researchers, including Leggio, are beginning to study whether these drugs are as safe and effective for treating addiction as they are for promoting weight loss.

Those scientists believe the drug does more than just regulate blood sugar and enhance satisfaction. Additionally, they suspect semaglutide can rewire the brain’s complex reward system.

So researchers also want to help scientists uncover if and how the medications affect the brain, as Leggio told SA.

People [taking these weight-loss drugs] who may benefit say it’s changing their life, but we don’t hear from people who don’t benefit. We need the human studies.

Drug Treatment is Not Without Risk

If research finds that the injectable is a safe treatment for addictive and compulsive behaviors, it would change the existing treatment landscape.

Currently, treatment for addictive and compulsive behavior depends on only a few government-approved drugs that seem to fail in the long term.

However, like any drug treatment, semaglutide is not without risks. In this case, the most commonly reported side effects affect the digestive tract. These include constipation, nausea, and diarrhea.

That said, most reports of those effects are unpleasant but mild.

Still, some users experience more severe outcomes and say the price is too high.

Joanie Knight of Angie, Louisiana, told CNN the drug made her life hell, and she wished she’d never heard of it.

Another patient, Emily Wright, of Toronto, has been off Ozempic for over a year. But she still vomits so frequently she’s taken a leave of absence from work.

Notably, this family of weight-loss drugs works by mimicking GLP-1, a natural hormone. One of the things GLP-1 does is slow digestion in the stomach. As a result, people feel fuller longer.

However, if the stomach slows too much, it can cause problems like gastroparesis (stomach paralysis). Doctors have diagnosed Knight and Wright with the condition. They believe Ozempic caused or contributed to the women’s diagnosis.

And more cases are coming to light as the popularity of the weight-loss drugs soar. However, it’s thought that unrelenting paralysis is rare.

New Antiaddiction Drugs Could be on Horizon

However, in a post on Reddit, since deleted, a user addicted to Adderall and gambling reported that Ozempic worked “almost like a literal miracle.”

From the post:

Almost immediately, the thought of gambling seemed so obviously stupid – not just dumb financially but a waste of time. It actually seemed boring to me for the first time ever.

However, while the anecdotal reports are promising, hard evidence and human trials are still needed. But, before too long, we may see new drug treatments to help people regain control.

In the meantime, people experiencing gambling and other compulsions should consult a doctor before resorting to prescription drugs.

About the Author

Robyn McNeil

Robyn McNeil

Robyn McNeil (she/they) is a Nova Scotia-based writer and editor, and a lead writer at Bonus. Here she focuses on news relevant to online casinos, while specializing in responsible gambling coverage, legislative developments, gambling regulations, and industry-related legal fights.
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