In a study published online in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, scientists from the Indiana University School of Medicine say the taste of beer alone triggers a release of dopamine, the brain’s chemical reward signal.
Dopamine is a chemical released by the human body and is associated with drug- and alcohol-related use and pleasure. In men with family histories of alcoholism, the dopamine release was greater.
The scientists sprayed 15 milliliters (about one tablespoon) of either beer or a sports drink into the mouths of the participants over a period of 15 minutes, scanning their brains and noting increases in dopamine levels were present. According to the scientists, 15mL of beer does not contain enough alcohol for the alcohol to cause intoxication or any noticeable increase in blood-alcohol levels.
Brain scans were accomplished with positron emission tomography, an imaging technology using radiation to obtain three-dimensional images of, in this case, the human brain.
The senior author of the study, Dr. David A. Kareken, said “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”.
Professor of substance use, policy and practice Peter Anderson at Newcastle University in the UK said many “sorts of cues” can cause an urge to drink. “This paper demonstrates that taste alone impacts on the brain functions associated with desire. This is not surprising — if taste increases desire, it has to impact on brain functions.”