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Taste of Alcohol Triggers Urge to Drink More

Scientists have found a genetic basis for developing an addiction to alcohol, which is related to an increase in dopamine levels in the brain. Recent research suggests that even a small taste or smell of beer can flood the brain with the neurotransmitter dopamine, which motivates one to seek more alcohol.

Researchers from the Indiana University School of Medicine found that having close relatives who are addicted to alcohol increases one’s likelihood of experiencing a greater surge of dopamine when they taste beer. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays many roles in the brain, but is most often linked with motivation, drug abuse, and addiction.

Using positron emission tomography (PET) to scan the brain, the investigators examined 49 men, after they tasted a tablespoon of beer and once again, after tasting Gatorade. They found that even a small amount of beer caused a significant surge of dopamine levels in the brain, which did not occur with Gatorade. They believe that this reaction was not due to alcohol but from the taste of beer. Participants also reported having an increased craving for the beverage after the procedure, even if they admitted that Gatorade tasted better.

David Kareken, deputy director of the Indiana Alcohol Research Center, believes that this is the first experiment in humans that demonstrates that the taste of an alcoholic beverage elicits dopamine release without the intoxicating effect of alcohol. He states further that participants who had close relatives suffering from alcoholism had a genetic predisposition to the disease and were more likely to exhibit greater dopamine surges.

The study, which was recently published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, supports previous findings that even the sight and smell of alcoholic beverages can trigger a dopamine response in the brain. This explains why treatment programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) advocate total abstinence from alcohol.


Krans, B. One Sip of Beer May Trigger Urge to Get Drunk. Yahoo.

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