It’s not the alcohol, it’s the TASTE–which is a trigger (for beer drinkers, anyway) for happiness.

The taste of beer, without any effect from alcohol itself, can trigger dopamine release in the brain, which is associated with drinking and other drugs of abuse.

Using brain imaging, researchers tested 49 men with two scans, one in which they tasted beer and the second in which they tasted Gatorade. They were looking for evidence of increased levels of dopamine, the "happiness hormone." The scans showed significantly more dopamine activity following the taste of beer than the sports drink.

The effect was significantly greater among participants with a family history of alcoholism. The stronger effect in these participants suggests that the release of dopamine in response to such alcohol-related cues may be an inherited risk factor for alcoholism.

Neurologist David A. Kareken says, "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."

Sensory cues that are closely associated with drug intoxication (such as tastes and smells, or the sight of a tavern) have long been known to spark cravings and induce treatment relapse in recovering alcoholics. Many neuroscientists believe that dopamine plays a critical role in these cravings.

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