The distinct flavour of beer and other alcoholic beverages provokes a strong urge in the brain to become intoxicated, US neurologists have found. The compulsion occurs upon the first sip and may explain why some people are more susceptible to alcoholism than others.
Beer picture from Shutterstock
Researchers from the Indiana University School of Medicine have discovered that alcohol-related flavours alone can increase the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine (DA) in a reward-related brain region called the striatum. In layman's terms, this translates to an increased desire to get drunk.
To test their theory, the research team measured changes in dopamine release in 49 men as they tasted small quantities of beer. The subjects of the study had varied drinking habits and family histories of alcoholism.
The results confirmed that the flavour of beer produces a significantly greater increase in the desire to drink and also induces dopamine release in the striatum. This was despite the consumed amount being too small to cause intoxication. Interestingly, the increase in dopamine release was greatest in men with first-degree alcoholic relatives.
The report concludes that the flavour of an alcoholic drink induces striatal dopamine release in the human brain, and that the magnitude of this effect is related to familial alcoholism:
The primary findings of this investigation indicate that the taste of a preferred alcoholic drink (beer), absent a pharmacologically significant dose of alcohol, is capable of inducing relative increases in DA transmission in the brain’s VST…Thus, we believe that alcohol conditioned taste cues alone may also be sufficient to induce ventral striatal DA release.
It's worth noting that the beer brands used in the study were those that each subject drank most frequently. In other words, if you want to avoid alcoholism, purposely stick to rubbish beers. We elect Victoria Bitter.
Do you find yourself more likely to get plastered when drinking your tipple of choice? Let us know in the comments section below.