Does a Sweet Tooth Mean Alcoholism?

Sugar-addicts beware; an affinity for sweets appears to be a marker for those at risk of developing alcoholism. While previous studies have found a sugar-alcohol link in both humans and animals, this study finds that sugar addiction may predict alcoholism.

Lead author Alexei Kampov-Polevoy, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, recruited 163 college-age social drinkers. Half of the participants had a paternal history of alcoholism while the other half did not.

Kampov and colleagues asked each participant to rate a series of sugar solutions that increased in concentration. They judged each for sweetness and palatability. Our hedonic reaction -- how much we enjoy sugar -- is something we are born with, not something we learn later in life, notes Kampov.

Participants with a paternal history of alcoholism were 2.5 times more likely to enjoy sweets. Also, they were more likely to dislike the most diluted sugar solutions. Kampov suggests that the opioid system -- the part of the brain impacted by both sugar and alcohol -- is oversensitive in these subjects.

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Researchers say in the future a simple test may help identify who is at risk for developing alcoholism long before one takes his first drink. The study was published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

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