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Appetite Hormones Play a Role in Alcohol Dependence and Craving

Science Highlight

September 30, 2015

Illustration of a glass of wine filling up the brain©Shutterstock

Recent research has suggested that appetite-regulating hormones ghrelin and leptin may play a role in alcohol use disorders. Leptin is a hormone produced by fat cells that reduces hunger; ghrelin, produced by the stomach, increases hunger.  An interaction between these hormones in the regulation of appetite has been described in previous studies; levels of these hormones have also been found to influence craving for alcohol. Researchers at Brown University tested the hypothesis that the interaction (or “cross-talk”) between ghrelin and leptin may play a role in alcohol craving in people with alcohol use disorders by administering exogenous (intravenous) ghrelin or a placebo to 45 non-treatment-seeking, alcohol-dependent heavy drinkers and then exposing them in separate trials to alcohol and neutral (juice) cues. They found that ghrelin administration, but not placebo, acutely decreased blood leptin levels and that decrease in leptin correlated with an increase in participants’ craving for alcohol. The change in leptin levels did not affect participants’ urge to drink juice. These findings provide further evidence that alcohol craving in people with alcohol use disorder is closely tied to the body’s signaling system that regulates appetite.


Haass-Koffler CL, Aoun EG, Swift RM, de la Monte SM, Kenna GA, Leggio L. Leptin levels are reduced by intravenous ghrelin administration and correlated with cue-induced alcohol craving. Translational Psychiatry. 2015;5:e646.

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