The Science Behind Why You Drink More Beer at a Cookout

Aside from the fact that your friends sprang for the best local craft brews, science may have just uncovered another reason you keep reaching for another and another. And this one has nothing to do with your willpower.

In research presented at the American Psychological Society’s annual meeting at Experimental Biology 2019, scientists at Penn State College of Medicine gave mice a number of different ways to eat—some binged on high-fat foods, others ate normally—and gave them access to alcohol. They found that the mice who binged on high-fat foods also drank more alcohol. Which may not be the most surprising finding to anyone who’s ever washed a nice big serving of ribs down with a number of beers.

But here’s why it’s interesting: Bingeing on high-fat foods may activate the same circuitry in the brain as bingeing on alcohol. “We think a binge intake pattern is leading to a sensitization of that circuitry—or at least part of it—that’s further enhanced by the alcohol intake,” says Yuval Silberman, Ph.D., assistant professor of neural and behavioral sciences and principal investigator who worked on this study with Caitlin Coker, a Ph.D. candidate and lead researcher on this project. In other words, high-fat foods get the circuits going, and they may direct you to keep them going with alcohol.

The team wasn’t out to vilify fatty foods. Silberman’s hope is “that we can help people understand that things unrelated to alcohol use might result in susceptibility to a loss of control over alcohol use,” he says. Of course, the study was in mice, so we’re a long way from knowing exactly how things happen in humans. “This is preliminary and I don’t want to go too far out on a limb, but I think there’s still this idea that addiction and alcohol use disorder are a moral failing,” he adds. But he’s hoping his research can pave the way to understanding that these are diseases of the brain and body, and changes in the brain may be responsible for them.

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