Is the taste of beer intoxicating?

The lightweights among us might have a neurological excuse for their prompt reaction to alcohol, according to a published study in Neuropsychopharamcology this week. According to the findings, the mere taste of Beer is enough to trigger a buzz in men. The research showed that even a small mouthful of beer – too small to cause direct alcoholic intoxication – prompts a release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the reward centre of men’s brain. This research has strong implications for our understanding of addiction, especially since this response was found to be stronger in men with close relatives who suffer from alcoholism.

This is just the latest of many studies in both animals and humans which have shown that drug-related cues – independent of the direct chemical effect of the drug itself – can stimulate activity in the brain’s reward centres. This is the first study, however, to make a connection between dopamine and the taste of beer.

The subjects of  this study were injected with a drug which allowed the path of dopamine release to be followed after administering small amounts of either beer of Gatorade. The taste of beer – and many of us can attest to this – caused a desire for more beer, whereas the taste of Gatorade produced no such desire. The taste of beer also prompted a release of dopamine in the ventral striatum, a brain region linked to reward. The response to beer was demonstrated to be stronger in the volunteers with parents or siblings with a history of alcohol abuse than those with no such history.

The study provides a more nuanced view on the how we understand alcohol addiction. The dopamine release does not so much trigger a direct reward but instead elicits a greater desire to seek reward – to keep drinking. Not surprisingly, you will probably never find what you you are looking for at the bottom of a pint glass!

The study has many correlations with the famous ‘Pavlov’s Dog’ experiment. The one where Russian physiologist, Ivan Pavlov found he could make his dog salivate by merely ringing a bell which he had conditioned the dog to associate with his dinner. So next time you ask for the ‘hair of the dog’ consider who the ‘dog’ in this case actually is!

For more info check out Sabrina Richard’s article in this week’s New Scientist.

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Please do not give alcohol to dogs!

About the author: Conor Hughes works as a Marketing Executive at Life Science Recruitment

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