Does Taste Sensitivity and Preference Associate Withalcohol Intake and Use Disorders?
The effects of a sustained and high level of consumption of alcohol on the risk of developing an alcohol use disorder and associated health issues are well documented. While the role of various biological, social and psychological factorson alcohol intake and misuse are relatively well understood, much less is known about how gustation (taste) may mediate alcohol behavior and risk. A central theory in this field is that as ethanol (the dominant alcohol in alcoholic beverages) mainly elicits aversive ‘taste’ sensations (e.g. bitterness and irritation/burn), individuals who experience these sensations more intensely will be protected from alcohol misuse. In the first part of this paper we examine the evidence offered in support of this theory, with a focus on biological factors known to associate with taste sensitivity, including PROP (6-n-propyl-2-thiouracil) and thermal-taster status. We then present thefindings of an unpublished study from our lab that extends the question of taste sensitivity to consider whether taste preferences may associate with alcohol behaviour. Specifically, we test the hypothesis that individuals (non-clinical sample of 223 university students) who prefer higher concentrations of sucrose (‘sweet-likers’) may differ from individuals who prefer lower concentrations of sucrose (‘sweet-dislikers’) for several alcohol measures, including familial history of alcoholism, alcohol intake, and hazardous drinking (as assessed by the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test, AUDIT). Alcohol and sucrose are hypothesized to influence the opioid reward system in the brain in a similar way to reinforce use.Analysis of Variance showed a significant main effect for sweet-liking on the alcohol consumption of males (F (1) = 4.10, p = 0.04), with monthly intake of sweet-liking males higher than sweet-disliking females. These findings are discussed in the wider context of the role of taste sensitivity and preference in the alcohol behaviorofhumans.
Key words- alcohol behavior; taste perception; alcohol use disorders; chemosensation;sweet-liking; biology