Study Finds Taste of Beer Alone Triggers Dopamine Release in Brain

Posted on April 16, 2013

Scientists say the taste of beer, without any effect from alcohol itself, can trigger dopamine release in the brains of male beer drinkers. Female beer drinkers were not studied. The study was conducted by researchers from the Indiana University School of Medicine.

Using positron emission tomography (PET), the researchers tested 49 men with two scans, one in which they tasted beer, and the second in which they tasted Gatorade. The study participants received a very small amount of their preferred beer -- 15 milliliters -- over a 15-minute time period. The scans showed significantly more dopamine activity following the taste of beer than Gatorade. The researchers say this effect was significantly greater among participants with a family history of alcoholism.

David A. Kareken, Ph.D., professor of neurology at the IU School of Medicine, said in a statement, "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."

Brandon G. Oberlin, Ph.D., post-doctoral fellow and first author of the paper, said that in addition to the PET scan results, participants also reported an increased beer craving after tasting beer, without similar responses after tasting Gatorade -- even though many thought the Gatorade actually tasted better.

Results of the study were published here in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.