05 Jun When Punishment Is Removed, Rats Return To Alcohol
Alcohol consumption is related to many negative consequences related to physical health, including injury, risky sexual behaviors and involvement in vehicular crashes. However, it is often the consequences related to relationships and employment that signal the development of an addiction. Those who are addicted to alcohol are often motivated to change their behaviors once their marriage, financial stability and friendships are threatened.
When the threat of these consequences fades over time, many alcohol addicts will return to the substance. This is especially true when the addict is exposed to situations in which alcohol-related cues are prevalent, such as in certain social situations.
A study recently conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse provides evidence that rats may follow the same pattern of behavior. When they believe that punishment is imminent, they reduce alcohol consumption. When the threat fades, however, their habits recommence, with alcohol consumption returning to pre-threat levels.
The findings are important for alcohol addiction research because animal models are often used to test various aspects of the disorder, from experimenting with potential medications to testing alcohol-related behaviors. The study’s findings that show rats exhibiting the same behavior shown in humans strengthens the argument for the use of animal models in studies that will translate to impact humans.
Experts explain that the better animal models and humans match one another in behaviors related to alcohol, the better researchers are able to test new treatments.
Previous studies examining alcohol abstinence involving animal models have been limited to trials in which rats are exposed to lever press that consistently allows for alcohol consumption, and then no longer does. The previous trials have been limited because they do not allow for behaviors that imitate a person’s resolve to avoid the negative consequences associated with alcohol addiction.
Led by Nathan Marchant, the researchers used a rat relapse design that incorporated voluntary alcohol consumption suppressed by punishment in an environment that differs from the original environment in which alcohol was originally offered.
The findings showed that when the rats were reintroduced to the original consumption location, they relapsed immediately, seeking out alcohol consumption.
Marchant explains that one impact of the finding is that providing negative consequences in an inpatient treatment setting may have limited implications for behaviors in the patient’s normal environment when they return from the treatment program.
The findings may provide a potential springboard for further study, including experimentation with medications, food and possible time variations. Armed with the knowledge that rats also return to alcohol consumption when the threat of punishment has passed, researchers may be able to introduce multiple variables to test the impact of other factors interacting in this model.
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