Taste of Beer May Trigger the Desire to Drink

Posted by | Alcohol and Drug Use, Relapse Prevention | January 25, 2016

A scent can be a powerful force. When you smell flowers, you might immediately go back to the last time you were in front of the same blossom. Or when you smell a home-cooked meal, you might suddenly feel hungry. Or when you smell the scent of freshly brewed coffee, you might feel the urge to have a cup. Similarly, recent research points to the effects of the taste of beer on a person’s brain, possibly causing cravings for more alcohol.

The research study used 49 male participants of good physical and psychological health with an average age of 25. The participants were asked to taste about a half an ounce of their favorite beer and then also taste a half of an ounce of Gatorade. The study found that compared to Gatorade, beer significantly increased a participant’s desire to drink alcohol. These desires were self-reported by the participants. Alongside this, however, brain scans revealed the release of dopamine with the small taste of beer.

The study also showed that the amount of dopamine released in a person’s brain was greater in those who had parents or other family members who drank alcohol. This presents interesting data for the genetic component that plays a role in addiction. Even before this study, experts have been aware that genetics can play a role in the development of addiction. If someone has a genetic disposition toward addiction, he or she may be more likely to develop an addiction when using drugs and alcohol compared to someone who doesn’t have this genetic propensity. However, even without a genetic propensity, a person may have certain associations with the taste of alcohol if he or she was around alcohol frequently during their upbringing.

In this study, researchers found that a person’s sensory cues are associated with certain parts of the brain that may trigger the release of dopamine. Their consumption of the beer sample triggered a release of dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that controls the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. Experts in the field of addiction and recovery have known that addiction usually shows a significant increase in dopamine in the brain as well as the presence of glutamate, the brain’s excitatory chemical.

Here’s how it works: When the brain is stimulated by a particular drug that brings excitement, it fills with dopamine, which feels pleasurable. Over time, as one continues to use that same drug, a dependency slowly develops upon those feelings of pleasure. In fact, this dependency can become so strong that the brain sends the message that it needs the drug in order to survive. This creates feelings of not being able to stop using drugs or drinking even if a person wanted to. In addition to not being able to stop, a person may continue to use drugs or drink despite the negative consequences that might develop as a result.

Of course, drinking alcohol and the use of other drugs come with significant risks. If you or someone you know is drinking or using drugs on a frequent basis, an addiction may develop. If you believe that you or someone you know is at risk for addiction, contact a mental health provider today.

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