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Just like the smell of coffee makes people want to pour a cup, a small taste of beer may activate a part of your brain’s reward system and trigger the urge to drink more, according to a new study. Research shows that the sensory cues associated with drinking may stimulate certain parts of the brain, causing a craving for more alcohol. When people are given a small amount of their beer of choice it creates a desire to drink that is correlated with the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward-and-pleasure centers. The research also discovered that the amount of dopamine released was greater in those who had parents or siblings with alcoholism.
For this study, 49 right-handed men in good physical and mental condition with an average age of 25 underwent 2 brain scans. None of these participants had a history of significant drug or alcohol problems and all of them expressed a preference for drinking beer, as opposed to drinking other forms of alcohol like wine or liquor. There were no women in this study because it was too difficult to find enough women who preferred beer and met the criteria for the inclusion of the study. Right-handedness was a requirement because most people have language capacity on the left side of the brain so researchers wanted to make sure that no differences between the men would interfere with the study.
The participants were tested while tasting 15 milliliters, equivalent to about half an ounce, of their beer of choice, while also tasting Gatorade. Researchers mixed beer flavor with a small amount of alcohol to help make sure the participants were experiencing something close to what they would sense when drinking beer. The study showed that compared to Gatorade, beer flavor significantly increased a man’s self-reported desire to drink. The brain scans showed that they alcohol-associated flavor induced the release of dopamine and proved to be greatest in those who had parents or siblings who were alcoholics. Family history of alcoholism is one of the best ways to assess genetic risk.
So for those of you who have parents, siblings or other family members who have drinking problems, be aware that you could be at risk for developing alcoholism. Just one taste of your favorite beer can trigger your brain to want more so think about that, especially if you are driving!