Sweet Preference and Mood: Implications for the Risk of Alcoholism



This chapter is dedicated to the review of available literature regarding a role of sweet taste in psychiatric research. Hedonic (pleasurable) response to sweet taste is a stable inherent trait that to a large extent depends on the activity of the brain opiate system and may be considered a marker for activity of this system, with the reduction of this activity shifting preference towards stronger sweet taste (a phenomenon that is often referred to as sweet liking). Sweet-liking individuals with dysfunction of the brain opiate system have a diminished ability to experience pleasure and an elevated sensitivity to the mood-altering effects of alcohol and sweet-tasting foods. In clinical populations, sweet liking and craving for sweet-tasting foods is often associated with negative affective states (e.g., anxiety and depression). Consumption of sweets (both natural and noncaloric artificial sweeteners) causes stimulation of the brain opiate system and produces effects similar to those of opiate agonists (i.e., morphine), albeit of lesser magnitude. These effects include feeling of well-being, sedation, reduction of negative mood states, and analgesia. As a result, sweet-tasting foods may be used to self-medicate negative mood states, which in some cases may lead to the development of eating disorders. The higher prevalence of eating disorders noted in women can be attributed to their higher sensitivity to the mood-altering effect associated with eating sweet-tasting foods. On the other hand, sweet-liking men have been shown to be sensitive to the rewarding effect of alcohol, which puts them at higher risk for having alcohol-use disorders, especially if sweet liking is combined with novelty seeking – a personality trait that facilitates excessive drinking. The reviewed literature indicates that evaluation of hedonic response to sweet taste may be an important instrument for assessment of various psychiatric conditions, including affective disorders, alcohol-use disorders, and eating disorders.


Bulimia Nervosa Sweet Taste Saccharin Solution Sweet Food Negative Mood State 



Sweet disliking


Sweet liking


g-Aminobutyric acid


Positive family history of alcoholism


Negative family history of alcoholism


Premenstrual syndrome


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillUSA

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