Patients taking the blockbuster weight-loss drug Wegovy are reporting an unusual added benefit — they are free from other addictions that used to rule their lives.
Users across the country claim their cravings for cigarettes and alcohol became less intense when they started taking the slimming injection. Others say bad habits like biting their nails, picking their skin and compulsive shopping also disappeared.
The drug helps people lose weight by mimicking the GLP-1 hormone, which curbs hunger and slows the the rate at which a person’s stomach empties, leaving them feeling fuller for longer.
But experts say it may also dull the brain’s dopamine reward pathway, reducing the chemical hit and thus the ‘feel good’ element of giving in to unhealthy cravings.
Some researchers are excited that they may have accidentally stumbled on an anti-addiction drug. An estimated one in 60 US adults have a prescription for Wegovy, Ozempic, or Mounjaro.
Henry Webb (left), from North Carolina, finished a two-month course of Wegovy after hitting his weight goal. In the past, he would consistently have a couple of drinks in the evening, but said: ‘On the medication I had zero desire for that.’ Ashley, from Texas, takes Mounjaro, another diabetes drug due to be approved for weight loss in the US, said she noticed she stopped picking at her hangnails as a nervous habit
Wegovy was originally developed for type 2 diabetes to help control blood glucose
Henry Webb, from North Carolina, finished a two-month course of Wegovy after hitting his weight goal.
In the past, he would consistently have a couple of drinks in the evening, but said: ‘On the medication I had zero desire for that.’
He added: ‘This could be a game changer for people who struggle with addiction.’
Jim Melloan, from New York, said he had a ‘total aversion to alcohol’ on the drug, which also barely affected his weight.
He said: ‘I didn’t sign up for that. Been on it for almost four months, and I’m out. I want to be able to drink socially again.’
Ashley, from Texas, takes Mounjaro, another diabetes drug due to be approved for weight loss in the US, said she noticed she stopped picking at her hangnails as a nervous habit.
She said: ‘I took some biotin [vitamin B] when I started and my nails literally never looked better. There’s definitely something to it.’
Dr Shauna Levy, an obesity medicine specialist at Tulane University, in New Orleans, told DailyMail.com: ‘I have noticed that people want to drink less alcohol. I have also noticed a decrease in binge eating behavior. GLP-1 receptor agongists decrease the reward the brain feels from addictive behaviors like eating, drinking, smoking, shopping etc.
‘It was a really cool finding. These medications can treat so many different problems.’
She added: ‘We need to do more research to understand the mechanism.’
Victoria Rutledge was addicted to alcohol. When she became sober in her early 30s, she became consumed instead by food and shopping.
She spent $500 on organic groceries but then let them go moldy in her fridge.
She told The Atlantic: ‘I couldn’t stop from going to that extreme.’
When shopping in Target, she couldn’t help throwing dozens of extra items into her cart.
Earlier this year, Ms Rutledge began taking Wegovy for weight loss, and found herself thinking less about food and slimming down.
She also took trips to Target and left with only the items she intended to buy.
‘I’ve never done that before,’ she said. Her cravings for shopping and food had magically gone away.
In 2022, more than 5 million prescriptions for Ozempic, Mounjaro, Rybelsus, or Wegovy were written for weight management, compared with just over 230,000 in 2019. This marks an increase of more than 2,000 percent, according to market research firm Komodo Health
A UK study found that people who used Wegovy experienced rapid weight loss, dropping 18% of their weight over 68 weeks. They regained two-thirds of that weight, or 12% of their original body weight in the year after dropping the weekly injections. Experts says the drug needs to be used over a lifetime to keep off the pounds
Another patient, Mary Maher, used to obsessively pick the skin on her back and would bleed so much that she avoided wearing white.
Two months after taking Wegovy, the urge to pick had disappeared and her back had healed and she had also stopped biting her nails.
Clinical trials are in the works at the University of North Carolina to see if semaglutide can help people stop drinking and smoking.
Semaglutide, the active ingredient in Wegovy and Ozempic, mimics glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) — a hormone in the brain that prompts the body to produce more insulin and reduce blood sugar levels, regulating appetite.
Initially created for diabetes, semaglutide triggers the pancreas to release insulin by mimicking a hormone called glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1).
The hormone also curbs hunger and slows the rate at which a person’s stomach empties, causing them to lose weight.
It also appears to affect the brain. GLP-1 impact dopamine pathways in the brain, the reward pathway that is key to addictions.
Things such as food and sex release dopamine in the brain, and the positive feeling we get motivates us to repeat the behaviors.
In addicts, this mechanism can shift. They may have less dopamine receptors in their brain, meaning the same reward might provide less pleasure.
Other types of GLP-1, such as exenatide, which is also used to treat diabetes, have shown results in terms of reducing addictions.
Mice taking a form of exenatide got less of a dopamine hit from alcohol, and rats on the drug desired less cocaine.
Researchers have said they expect lots of studies with semaglutide showing positive results to be published soon.
The longer term effects of semaglutide are still unknown.
Dr Christopher McGowan, a North Carolina-based weight loss expert, told DailyMail.com that using the drug for weight loss is a lifelong ‘commitment.’
A study found that patients piled on two-thirds of the weight they had lost on the drugs, just months after stopping them, and most would need to keep taking the injections forever to keep their results.
Users of the drug have also found they are suffering rapid muscle loss, tending to lose more muscle than fat while on the drug.
Other people reported feeling disgusted by their favorite foods and some items that they never thought twice about.
Staci Rice, 40, from Georgia, lost nearly 50 pounds when she went onto Ozempic and can now fit into jeans she last wore 16 years ago.
But the marketing professional was also surprised to find that she had developed an aversion to ground beef and Chick-fil-A while on the drug.
Ground beef has now been pulled from dinners, must to the frustration of her husband and son, she told the Insider. And she is now also having Chick-fil-A’s kale salad instead of its standard ‘Number 1’.
She was also a lifelong coffee drinker, having enjoyed a cup every day since the seventh grade. But now, she can’t touch it.
‘Every morning, I would try to make coffee, thinking that one day it would just taste good to me again,’ Ms Rice said.
Patients are also facing saggy skin, doctors warn, which has been dubbed ‘Ozempic face’ and ‘Ozempic body’.
It is caused by rapid weight loss that happens so quickly that the skin does not have time to adjust to the new body size. As a result, it hangs down in folds.