Sweet preference, sugar addiction and the familial history of alcohol dependence: shared neural pathways and genes

J Psychoactive Drugs. 2010 Jun;42(2):147-51. doi: 10.1080/02791072.2010.10400687.


Contemporary research has shown that a high number of alcohol-dependent and other drug-dependent individuals have a sweet preference, specifically for foods with a high sucrose concentration. Moreover, both human and animal studies have demonstrated that in some brains the consumption of sugar-rich foods or drinks primes the release of euphoric endorphins and dopamine within the nucleus accumbens, in a manner similar to some drugs of abuse. The neurobiological pathways of drug and "sugar addiction" involve similar neural receptors, neurotransmitters, and hedonic regions in the brain. Craving, tolerance, withdrawal and sensitization have been documented in both human and animal studies. In addition, there appears to be cross sensitization between sugar addiction and narcotic dependence in some individuals. It has also been observed that the biological children of alcoholic parents, particularly alcoholic fathers, are at greater risk to have a strong sweet preference, and this may manifest in some with an eating disorder. In the last two decades research has noted that specific genes may underlie the sweet preference in alcohol- and drug-dependent individuals, as well as in biological children of paternal alcoholics. There also appears to be some common genetic markers between alcohol dependence, bulimia, and obesity, such as the A1 allele gene and the dopamine 2 receptor gene.

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholism* / genetics
  • Alcoholism* / metabolism
  • Alcoholism* / pathology
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Addictive* / genetics
  • Behavior, Addictive* / metabolism
  • Behavior, Addictive* / pathology
  • Endorphins / genetics
  • Endorphins / metabolism
  • Family Health*
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / genetics
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / pathology
  • Food Preferences / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Neural Pathways / pathology*
  • Serotonin / metabolism
  • Sweetening Agents / adverse effects*


  • Endorphins
  • Sweetening Agents
  • Serotonin