Diabetes drug can help treat alcoholism

29 September 2015

Researchers have found that a medication currently used as treatment for type 2 diabetes and obesity shows potential as treatment for alcohol dependence in humans.

The drug liraglutide helps regulate glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1), which plays a role in the stimulation of insulin secretion and the suppression of glucagon release.

The researchers found that the drug was able to suppress the effects of alcohol on the dopamine system, which reduced its pleasurable effect and decreased the motivation to drink.

"Acute liraglutide treatment suppressed the well-documented effects of alcohol on the mesolimbic dopamine system, namely alcohol-induced accumbal dopamine release and conditioned place preference in mice," the researchers wrote in their study published in Addiction Biology.

Dopamine is released by the reward center in the brain in response to drinking alcohol, giving a sense of euphoria. The GLP-1-like substance hampers the alcohol's ability to boost dopamine in the reward areas of the mice so that the animals no longer experience reward from alcohol.

The researchers found that the drug reduced alcohol consumption by 30 to 40 per cent in mice that have been consuming large quantities of alcohol for several months. They also observed that the medication prevented relapse drinking in the animals, which is often a problem for alcohol addicts.

GLP-1 has already been earlier shown to decrease the desire for cocaine, amphetamine and nicotine cravings in a manner similar to its effects on alcohol use.

"The physiological role of GLP-1 extends beyond glucose homeostasis and food intake regulation and includes modulation of development of alcohol dependence," said Elisabet Jerlhag, from Sahlgrenska Academy. "We suggest that medications that resemble GLP-1 could be used to treat alcohol dependence in humans."

In June, another study was also published, exploring GLP-1 as a potential treatment target in alcohol use disorder (AUD). With the results obtained in human experiments, the researchers "found converging evidence in a mouse model of alcohol dependence where pharmacological GLP-1R agonism via an exendin-4 analog (AC3174) significantly reduced alcohol consumption."

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that excessive alcohol use can elevate a person's risks for a range of health problems including cancer and liver disease.

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