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The taste of beer may trigger the brain’s reward system and cause a craving for more alcohol, researchers from Indiana University report.

They found men who were given small amounts of their preferred brand of beer felt a desire to drink. This desire was associated with the release of the brain chemical dopamine, which helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers.

People who had parents or a sibling with alcoholism released a greater amount of dopamine, HealthDay reports.

“We believe this is the first experiment in humans to show that the taste of an alcoholic drink alone, without any intoxicating effect from the alcohol, can elicit this dopamine activity in the brain’s reward centers,” lead researcher David A. Kareken, PhD, said in a news release. He noted the stronger effect of beer in people with close alcoholic relatives suggests this response may be an inherited risk factor for alcoholism.

The study included 49 men, who underwent two brain scans—one when they drank half an ounce of beer over 15 minutes, and another when they drank Gatorade. The beer significantly increased men’s desire to drink. The brain scans showed significantly more dopamine activity after the men tasted the beer, compared with Gatorade. The results were greater in those with a family history of alcoholism.

The study appears in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.


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