“We believe this is the first experiment in humans to show that the taste of an alcoholic drink alone, without any intoxicating effect from the alcohol, can elicit this dopamine activity in the brain’s reward centers,” the study’s senior author, neuroscientist David Kareken of the Indiana University School of Medicine, said in a statement. The findings were detailed online today (April 15) in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

Dopamine, a brain chemical widely associated with pleasure, has long been linked to the consumption of alcohol and other drugs. Sensory cues — such as tastes, smells or the sight of a bar — can elicit cravings to drink and cause relapses in recovering alcoholics. Dopamine may be critically involved in such cravings, scientists believe. [11 Interesting Facts About Hangovers]

In the study, researchers gave 49 male volunteers a tiny taste (half an ounce, or 15 milliliters) of their favorite beer over the course of 15 minutes — enough to taste the beer but not enough to cause a change in blood-alcohol level or intoxication. At other times, the volunteers were given a sports drink or water, for comparison.