Blog/Is It Safe To Drink Alcohol While Taking Semaglutide?
Jennie Stanford, MD | 7/9/2024 | 3 min read

Is It Safe To Drink Alcohol While Taking Semaglutide?

What you need to know about the interaction between alcohol and GLP-1s

a woman and man clink their glasses full of red wine

Glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonists, like semaglutide, have revolutionized the treatment of obesity. Semaglutide significantly alters appetite and cravings, and evidence suggests this includes reducing the desire for alcohol

However, many patients wonder if drinking alcohol while taking semaglutide is safe, if it will impact their weight loss, and what other factors they should know about combining semaglutide and alcohol. Read on as we discuss all of this and more.

What is semaglutide?

Semaglutide is a GLP-1 receptor agonist. It works by increasing the effects of a GLP-1, a neuroendocrine hormone that is produced in the gut in response to food intake. GLP-1 helps lower blood glucose and promotes weight loss. As you might expect, stronger effects of GLP-1 leads to better blood glucose reduction and more weight loss. 

How semaglutide works

GLP-1 helps lower blood glucose by sending it to organs and tissues to be used for energy. Also, GLP-1 slows gastric emptying, increases fullness, reduces appetite, and leads to decreased overall calorie intake. By binding to GLP-1 receptors, GLP-1 receptor agonists (like semaglutide) increase the activity of GLP-1. This is how semaglutide improves glucose control and increases weight loss. 

Reasons you may take semaglutide

Semaglutide was originally developed to treat type 2 diabetes. In the process, we learned that semaglutide also demonstrates significant success with weight loss. Overall, patients taking high-dose semaglutide may experience a reduction in A1c by about 2% and a weight loss of as much as 20% of their body weight.

How semaglutide affects what you eat

Not only does semaglutide increase overall fullness and reduce overall appetite, but it also reduces cravings for sugary, high-carbohydrate foods. By lowering the total number of calories you eat and eating fewer amounts of sugars and carbohydrates, both of these methods increase weight loss. 

Sugary, high-carbohydrate foods lead to rapid blood-sugar spikes and increased insulin secretion, which promotes energy storage as adipose (fat) tissue, which causes weight gain.. In contrast, less cravings for these types of foods makes it easier to follow the necessary diet changes while taking semaglutide, increasing the weight loss results you experience.

How alcohol interacts with the body

Alcohol is metabolized in a different way than other calorie-containing compounds of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Alcohol is mostly metabolized in the liver, plus a small degree in the stomach. Because ethanol (the alcohol we drink) is broken down into acetaldehyde (which is toxic), the body favors clearing alcohol over other macronutrients. 

The metabolism of alcohol occurs in a very specific way that favors energy storage as fat. Alcohol inhibits fatty acid oxidation, meaning that alcohol doesn’t allow fat stores to be burned for energy. 

Alcohol also stimulates hunger, and it specifically increases cravings for carbohydrates and sugary foods, likely based on its impacts on blood glucose. As a result of the impaired fat breakdown, increased fat storage, and heightened hunger and food cravings, drinking alcohol often promotes weight gain.

How does semaglutide affect alcohol intake?

Semaglutide has been shown to reduce alcohol consumption among animal study participants. Within humans, while direct experimental randomized controlled trials are still needed, self-reported data from patients taking semaglutide reveal they consume less alcohol, drink fewer drinks per episode, have fewer alcohol binges, and have overall reduced cravings and desires for alcohol.

Data suggests that taking semaglutide and other anti-obesity medications is associated with a 50% lower occurrence of alcohol use disorder. There is now interest in whether anti-obesity medications like semaglutide may be effective in treating alcohol use disorder, but more studies are needed to determine this potential benefit.

Is it safe to drink alcohol with GLP-1 medication?

Semaglutide commonly causes gastrointestinal effects, including nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and in some cases, pancreatitis. Consuming alcohol while taking semaglutide increases the chances these side effects will occur and raises the chances of them being more severe. 

In addition, both alcohol and semaglutide increase the risk of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). When they are taken together, your risk of hypoglycemia increases. Lastly, studies show that drinking alcohol while taking semaglutide may trigger fewer pleasure and reward signals in the brain, which likely helps reduce alcohol consumption.

While there hasn’t been any definitive guidance from the FDA regarding alcohol consumption while taking GLP-1s, it may be best to refrain from drinking in general for the best results.

Semaglutide and alcohol effects on weight

While you are within your weight loss journey with semaglutide, consuming alcohol can make achieving weight loss more difficult. Because of the way alcohol is metabolized, it promotes fat storage and increased adipose (fat) tissue, working against the goal of semaglutide to promote weight loss and decreased adiposity. In addition, alcohol is pro-inflammatory, and ongoing consumption of alcohol can cause chronic inflammation, which is known to make it more difficult to lose weight.

How to decide if alcohol is worth it

For some people, drinking alcohol in moderation provides pleasure and allows for socialization with their friends and family. For others, wines, beers, and hard liquors are a hobby, like new things to explore and experience. On the other hand, many people find that alcohol is fairly easy to give up, especially as they pursue weight loss and improved overall health. 

On the other hand, as with most medications, alcohol tends to amplify reactions and can lead to conditions like hypoglycemia when paired with a GLP-1 receptor agonist. Moderation is key here, but if weight loss is your goal, then alcohol could make it harder to achieve in the timeframe you want. It’s a good idea to discuss alcohol consumption while taking GLP-1s with your healthcare provider. They will offer clinical insight into its safety based on your unique health data and recommend options.

Interested in using GLP-1s for weight loss? The clinicians at Agile Telehealth can help you decide if medication may be right for you. You can see if you qualify here!

Disclaimer: The content provided in our blogs is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Readers should consult their primary care physician for guidance on treatment options and personalized medical advice.