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Samantha Felix Samantha Felix

Do You Love or Hate the Taste of Booze? It Could Be Genetic

A study finds that some people might be wired to enjoy the taste of alcohol, making them more likely to drink more of it.

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Do you like your whiskey “neat” or mixed with soda? Do you prefer wine over beer? Your booze preferences may be genetically pre-determined, according to a new study by the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. And those who are less sensitive to bitter alcohol tastes might have a higher risk of developing alcoholism.

In the study, people were asked to taste and spit out an alcoholic beverage and rate its flavor intensity. Those with one version of a bitterness taste receptor gene said they found an alcoholic drink to taste less bitter than those with a different version of the gene.

“The two genes, that had been previously associated with [alcohol] intake, also associated with differences in the perception of ethanol,” says study author Dr. John E. Hayes, of the Sensory Evaluation Center at The Pennsylvania State University in University Park. “The reason this work is significant is because it fills in this gap, because no one had shown in the lab that the alcohol actually tastes differently depending on which [version of the gene] you have.”

Basically, people who find the taste of alcohol less bitter may be more drawn to it, Hayes explains, which means doctors could eventually run gene mapping tests to identify individuals with a predisposition towards problem drinking. ”It seems unlikely the taste of alcohol matters at all once someone is alcohol-dependent,” Hayes says. “Still, taste genetics may be an important risk factor before someone becomes dependent.”

Hayes said he and his colleagues would like to conduct another study that follows college freshman over time to see if the bitterness taste genes have any impact on their risk of becoming future problem drinkers. However, many other social factors can contribute to alcohol dependency or over-drinking—for example, a 21-year-old college student in a frat house is probably more likely to drink too much, even if he hates the taste of tequila.