Is beer addictive?

Beer is an alcoholic drink that has become synonymous with many activities in the American culture. Besides drinking games on the college campuses revolving around it, it has emerged as a must-have beverage at every sporting event in the country and a go-to beverage on Friday nights and weekends.

It has become quite fashionable to consume beer due to the increased social acceptance of such drinks across all kinds of population. Undoubtedly, it has got intricately woven into people’s social life.  However, one fact that people fail to understand is that even people consuming beer are at an increased risk of developing an alcohol use disorder (AUD).

Beer is typically made from water, barley, hops and yeast. The alcohol content in beer (ethyl alcohol or ethanol) is generated by the process of fermentation of the barley grains. In comparison to wine or hard liquor, beer usually has the lowest alcohol content by volume (ABV), generally ranging between 2 and 12 percent. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers one 12-oz beer to count as a single serving where each serving contains 0.6 ounces of alcohol.

Neuropsychopharmacology of beer addiction

Dopamine, a neurotransmitter that stimulates the brain’s reward system, is strongly associated with addictive behaviors. Addictive behaviors develop as a result of the feeling of pleasure activated by the brain due to the stimulation caused by substances like alcohol, drugs, etc. The affected person receives a pleasurable “kick” from such substances and it further pushes him or her to repeat the behavior, thereby enslaving him or her to a vicious cycle that can be tough to break. Therefore, understanding the triggers that release dopamine in the brain is key to comprehending and preventing addictions and relapses.

One of the previous researches has found that even the sight or smell of beer is rewarding to the brain of people addicted to alcohol, thereby enticing them to drink. In 2016, another study, conducted by David Kareken and his team, subjected 49 men to tasting tiny amounts of their favorite beer, 15 milliliters to be precise, over the course of 15 minutes, through an automated sprayer. Their brain reactions were observed through a positron emission tomography (PET) scanner. The subjects were also asked to report their desire to drink and whether they had any family history of alcoholism.

This study found that the very first sip of beer is enough to stimulate the neurotransmitter even before alcohol has entered the bloodstream. The flavor cues alone caused the release of dopamine and induced the desire to drink, even in men with no alcoholic past. This same effect was not seen when gatorade or water was substituted for alcohol. The study also concluded that heritable traits of a person influence his or her brain’s reaction to beer more than his or her current behavioral patterns. This is apparently because of the fact that heavy drinkers with a family history of alcoholism have notably higher levels of dopamine release than those with no such family history. Moreover, people with a family history of alcoholism are twice more likely to develop problems related to drinking, as well as witness difficulties in staying sober.

The release of dopamine in the brain is part of an intricate reward system in the body that encourages important behaviors for survival. Unfortunately, alcohol and other substances have the tendency to hijack this vital pathway in the brain, which compels one to do things that are otherwise damaging to his or her health.

Learn how much is too much and when to seek help

For males, 15 or more servings a week would put him at a substantial risk of developing an addiction. For women, it would be about 12 servings. Anyone who has five or more servings every time he or she drinks, at least once a week, is also at risk of becoming addicted to beer.

If you or your loved one is struggling with a beer addiction, there is help. You may contact the Florida Alcohol Addiction Helpline to find the details about the facilities which specialize in alcohol dependence treatment in Florida. Call us at our 24/7 helpline number 866-220-5381 or chat online with our treatment advisers to know about the state-of-the-art alcohol rehab centers in Florida.