20 May 1998

Sweet Tooth Tests For Alcoholics

People with a penchant for sweet morsels are more likely to become alcoholics than those with savoury tastes - provided they fit a particular personality profile. That's the conclusion of a new study by researchers at the University of North Carolina. The findings, published this week in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, may also make possible the development of easy-to-administer diagnostic tests. Are you a latent alcoholic? Drink some cola and find out.

"So far, the combination of a 'sweet test' and a written survey called the Tridimensional Personality Questionnaire [TPQ] which evaluates the levels of novelty seeking, harm avoidance, and reward dependence, allowed an accurate diagnosis of alcoholism in 85 per cent of the subjects studied," says research leader Alexey Kampov-Polevoy.

In the study, 65 per cent of alcoholics said they preferred the most concentrated of five sugar solutions offered, which registered on the sweet-o-metre at about three times higher than non-diet cola.

Only 16 per cent of non-alcoholics admitted to a similar sweet tooth. Results from the TPQs also revealed that sweet-loving alcoholics tend to score high on harm-avoidance and novelty seeking, while sweet-loving non-alcoholics score low on these traits.

"You may say that the sweet-liking alcoholic is a person who might love to sky dive but is afraid to go to the airplane," says Kampov-Polevoy. The development of accurate diagnostic tests, he adds, could provide the opportunity for early preventative intervention. "Believe me, it is much easier to prevent alcoholism than to treat it."