Just a sip of beer can trigger the production of dopamine in the brain.
The findings were made by researchers from Indiana University, who scanned the brains of 49 men, with an average age of 25, after a sip of beer and a sports drink.
Each was given 15ml of fluid over 15 minutes – which is enough to make a pint go around 38 people. Scientists said the alcohol would therefore have no effect on the body.
But the results, published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, revealed there was more dopamine released in the brain after a taste of ale – and the men were more likely to say they wanted an alcoholic drink.
Interestingly, the study also revealed people with a family history of alcoholism had higher levels of dopamine.
Professor David Kareken, deputy director of the Indiana Alcohol Research Center, said: “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 centres.”
Dai Stephens, professor of experimental psychology at the University of Sussex, described the findings as “a first convincing demonstration in humans that a drink’s flavour has such effects on the brain”.
He also said the family effect was surprising and questioned whether this “underlies the development of alcohol, and perhaps other drug abuse”.