Beer’s taste, sans alcoholic effect, triggers dopamine in brain

The taste of beer triggered the release of dopamine in the brain even without the effect of alcohol, according to a new study in Neuropsychopharmacology.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Remember that Jamie Foxx song “Blame It (On the Alcohol)”? If not, perhaps it’s just as well, because scientists say that even the taste of beer (without the intoxicating effects of alcohol) can trigger that flow of striatal dopamine in the brain.

The findings, published online Monday in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, “demonstrate for the first time the important role of an alcoholic drink’s flavor, absent alcohol’s pharmacological effects,” the study authors wrote.

Researchers from the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis asked 49 men to try two beverages: Gatorade and their preferred beer. They sipped a mere 15 milliliters over 15 minutes, which allowed them to experience the taste of both without getting even close to buzzed by the beer’s alcohol content.


The scientists scanned the men’s brains during this demure drinking game using positron emission tomography, looking for signs of dopamine release. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with alcohol and other drugs. They found that the dopamine levels rose much higher when the participants tasted their beers, compared with when they just drank the Gatorade. The effect was more pronounced in participants who had a family history of alcoholism.

The findings suggest that the jacking-up of dopamine levels in response to alcohol-related triggers could be a hereditary risk factor for alcoholism.

This effect persisted even though many of the participants actually said that the Gatorade tasted better than the beer.

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