Background: The relationship between a hedonic response to sweet taste and a propensity to excessive alcohol drinking is supported by both animal and human studies. There is evidence indicating that the tendency to rate more concentrated sweet solutions as the most pleasurable (i.e., sweet liking) is associated with the genetic vulnerability to alcoholism. However, sweet liking by itself is insufficient to predict the alcoholic status of the individual. Our previous study indicated that alcoholic status can be predicted by a combination of hedonic response to sweet taste and personality profile as measured by the Tridimensional Personality Questionnaire (TPQ). This study was designed to further test this hypothesis.
Methods: Participants were 165 patients admitted to a residential treatment program for the treatment of alcoholism, drug dependence and/or interpersonal problems secondary to substance-abusing family members. In addition to a routine medical examination, on the 24th day after admission, patients completed the TPQ, the standard sweet taste test was conducted, and paternal family history of alcoholism was evaluated.
Results: Sweet liking was strongly associated with a paternal history of alcoholism. The odds of receiving an alcohol dependence diagnosis were shown to increase, on the average, by 11% for every one-point increase in the TPQ novelty-seeking score in sweet-liking but not in sweet-disliking subjects. Gender contributed independently to the probability of alcohol dependence, with males exhibiting higher rates of alcoholism than females.
Conclusions: These findings support the hypothesis that a hedonic response to sweet taste is associated with a genetic risk for alcoholism. Alcoholic status may be predicted by a combination of sweet liking, the TPQ novelty-seeking score, and gender in a mixed group of alcoholic, polysubstance-dependent, and psychiatric patients.