Sweet Tooth May Be Linked to Alcoholism

By Chrisanne Grise 07/11/13

Studies show that the brain's responses to sweets and booze may be closely linked.

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Your dessert cravings may indicate a higher risk for alcoholism, according to various studies. Past research on humans and animals has found that the brain's responses to sweets and alcohol may share the same neural pathways. And a new study, to be published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, showed that test subjects' responses to a sweet taste correlated with their drinking patterns. "Some studies do show that alcoholics, or even non-alcoholics with a family history of alcoholism, have a preference for unusually sweet tastes,” says David A. Kareken, deputy director of the Indiana Alcohol Research Center and co-author of the new study. “While the precise reasons remain unclear, there does seem to be significant evidence suggesting some link between the rewarding properties of both sweet tastes and alcohol." In the new study, sixteen healthy volunteers were given small squirts of either water or a mixture of sugar in water, while researchers conducted a taste test and blood measurements with a technology called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). They found that those subjects who reported drinking more alcohol in general had a stronger response to the sweet liquid; these subjects also reported liking the sweet taste more than subjects who drank less alcohol. Says Kareken: "While alcoholism itself is likely the product of several mechanisms, our findings may implicate a particular brain region that is more generally involved in coding for the value of 'primary' rewards such as pleasures."

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Chrisanne Grise is a multimedia journalist specializing in health/fitness, lifestyle, travel, bridal, and music. Her work has appeared in print and online for publications such as Martha Stewart Weddings, Parents, FitnessMagazine, Fisher Price, Bridal Guide, Scholastic's Choices, AbsolutePunk.net, Chorus.fm, and more. She is the Senior Editor at The New York Times Upfront. Follow her on Linkedin and Twitter.