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Researchers Suggests Mere Taste Of Alcohol Can Fuel Addiction

Sonia Belviso

A recent study finds the taste of alcohol is closely linked to addiction markers in the brain.  

The research project from a team at the IU School of Medicine is the first to use two different types of advanced brain imaging techniques to strengthen evidence that reward receptors in the right side of the brain are tied to addiction. 

Assistant Research Professor of Neurology Brandon Oberlin says the study, conducted with 28 male beer drinkers, sought to find out what areas of the brain are 

  involved when a beer drinker tastes beer.

"So it’s a little bit like Pavlov’s dogs – all stimuli that become connected to some kind of unconditional reinforcer," he says. "So in this case, the taste of beer signals to the brain that intoxication is coming. So we wanted to see what does the taste by itself do to the brain?"

The results showed that just the taste of beer increased blood oxygen levels and dopamine activity. Oberlin says this shows the importance of understanding cravings in future addiction research.

"What are the brain markers, in terms of chemistry, in terms of activation for a risk of addiction? " he asks. "These are the sorts of things that can be treatment targets in the future and possibly something that we coudl look at for early interventions. Could this cut down a little if we need to?"

The study was funded with help from the National Institute of Health and the Indiana Alcohol Research Center. 

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