Sweet Cravings, Tobacco and Alcohol Abuse: A Connection Emerges
Posted under Alcohol Abuse on Monday, March 7th, 2011
Tobacco use, a tendency for alcoholism and having a strong sweet tooth – researchers now believe there may be a connection.
Tobacco has been a significant cause of death and serious health problems among women, especially in terms of certain cancers and diseases that occur more frequently than men. Compared to men that smoke, women may have faster-moving cases of lung cancer, heart disease and other cancers.
Women are also more susceptible to using smoking as a way to escape negative emotions than men, and to rely on cigarettes to help them avoid fattening foods and lose weight. More women than men say they enjoy the taste and the aromas from smoking.
Simultaneously, say University of North Carolina Chapel Hill researchers, sweet marks one of most people’s earliest taste experiences. Alexei Kampov-Polevoy, psychiatry research assistant professor, was part of the team that studied the relationship between cravings for sweets and a tendency to abuse substances or develop eating problems and depression, among other conditions.
The team believes that a person experiencing a sweet sensation may activate the system of brain rewards related to pleasure, or the opioid system, with connections to early experiences with mother’s milk as an infant. Part of the connection may also be genetic, researchers say, as some babies react differently to sweet tastes than others, even from the beginning.
Because many patients with psychiatric problems like addictions and eating disorders crave sugary foods, the researchers are working to determine whether or not a person’s response to sweets could be a warning flag for a predisposition to substance abuse, smoking or other problems. They also noted that the stronger a person’s urges for nicotine, the stronger their desire for sugar-loaded, fatty or high-carbohydrate foods.
In addition, women in the study who had alcoholism cases in their family’s past had a stronger desire for sweet-tasting foods and wanted them more often than women who didn’t. Researchers speculate that a genetic tendency toward alcoholism could also be manifested by a strong desire for sweets.
Similar connections are being explored toward children who crave sweets. Researchers at Philadelphia’s Monell Chemical Senses Center said that genetics may cause some children to desire sweet and fatty foods more strongly than other children, and that it is speculated that these children with the strong desires for sweets could be more likely to be drawn to alcohol abuse later on than other children.
During the research, 300 children were given a choice of five types of water, each with varying levels of sugar added and asked to choose which one they most preferred. The children who desired the most highly-sugared water in the study had symptoms of depression, and all had a family history that included alcoholism.
Researchers believe children with depression may find relief from sugary foods, and they want to explore the brain-based connections further between sweets, depression and a future tendency for alcoholism. This research, along with studies on adults who smoke and abuse alcohol, could help determine some of the markers to look for when it comes to preventing a child from developing a substance abuse addiction later in life.