Does a Sweet Tooth Mean Alcoholism?

An affinity for sweets appears to be a marker for those at risk of developing alcoholism. This could be because both sugar and alcohol affect the same pleasure area of the brain.

By Colin Allen, published on November 20, 2003 - last reviewed on June 30, 2005

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.

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
.