Sugar and 'spice' may provide clues to alcoholism.
New findings show that a combination of the two factors indicate that a person is likely to be an alcoholic.
But either trait on its own is not a predictor of alcohol dependence.
Researchers examined 165 middle-aged patients admitted to a residential treatment programme for alcohol and drug addiction and social problems related to family substance abuse.
Participants were asked to fill in a personality questionnaire, screened for a paternal family history of alcoholism, and given a standard sweet-taste test.
Research leader Professor Alexei Kampov-Polevoy, from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, said, 'The main finding of this study is that two independent and presumably heritable traits, such as sweet-liking and high novelty-seeking, separately, were insufficient to predict alcoholism in our sample. However, if a person had both of these traits, he or she most likely was an alcoholic.'
He said the association was not surprising because of the way both sweet tastes and alcohol affected the part of the brain that responded to rewards.
'Children of alcoholics are reported to have a heritable dysfunction of the brain reward system that makes them super-sensitive to the rewarding effects of alcohol,' he said.
'The same brain dysfunction causes preference for stronger sweet solutions, or sweet-liking. If such an individual also has high novelty-seeking that causes early experimentation with alcohol, it significantly increases the risk of development of alcoholism.'
He said the findings may lead to the development of a simple test that can assess the risk of an individual developing dependence on alcohol.
The results, published in the journal Alcoholism Clinical and Experimental Research, may also be of help to parents.
'Based on our findings, we may say that for children - especially boys - who prefer stronger sweet tastes and have signs of elevated novelty-seeking, it is especially important to delay their first experience with alcohol, although the same advice is good for all children,' said Professor Kampov-Polevoy.'
Novelty-seeking has long been thought to promote early experimentation with alcohol and higher rates of heavy drinking and alcohol abuse.