Study links alcoholism, and craving for sweets

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Studies on twins suggest that, in men, anyway, a strong craving for sweets may be linked with a tendency to alcoholism, and the cause may be genetic, researchers said Monday.

Men who have trouble controlling their sweet tooth may also have trouble staying off the bottle, a team at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill reported.

"Several years ago, we found the first clinical evidence linking (a liking for sweets) with alcoholism in a study that involved subjects tasting a wide range of concentrations of table sugar in water," Dr. David Overstreet, an associate professor of psychiatry who led the study, said in a statement.

"In this new study, we found that despite different life experiences, twin brothers continue to share sweet and alcohol preferences."

Overstreet's team studied 19 pairs of male twins, none of whom had been diagnosed as alcoholics, for its study, presented at a Society for Neuroscience meeting in New Orleans.

"Those individuals who reported drinking more alcohol on occasion and having more alcohol-related problems also had problems with controlling how many sweets they ate," he said.

"They were more likely to report urges to eat sweets and craving for them. They also were more likely to report this craving when they were nervous or depressed, and they believed eating sweets made them feel better."

Dr. Alexey Kampov-Polevoy, formerly of UNC and now with the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, who also worked on the study, said the finding might help doctors prevent alcoholics from succumbing to their illness.

"Our findings are interesting given the advice found in the early writings of Alcoholics Anonymous that eating and drinking sweets allays the urge to drink," Kampov-Polevoy said.

"Perhaps a benign and inexpensive sweet test, which takes only 10 minutes to perform, may be a first step in developing such a test (for alcoholism)," he added. "This test could be used to screen youngsters to detect those with a predisposition to alcoholism, which might allow early education and prevention rather than waiting until alcoholism develops."

The researchers noted that not everyone with a sweet tooth became an alcoholic, but said the men who liked the most intense sweets tended to like alcohol more, too.