Voluntary Ethanol Consumption Differs in Adolescent and Adult Male Rats Using a Modified Sucrose-Fading Paradigm

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Background:  Initiation of alcohol consumption during adolescence is high, which usually begins with consumption of highly concentrated sweetened alcoholic beverages in adolescent humans. Enhanced voluntary ethanol (EtOH) intake has been observed previously in adolescent relative to adult rats under continuous access conditions using sweetened EtOH solutions. The present set of experiments investigated patterns of voluntary EtOH intake in adolescent and adult rats using sweetened EtOH solutions in a limited access paradigm.

Methods:  Rats were trained with modified sucrose-substitution protocols that ended at either 5% sucrose-20% EtOH (5S/20E) (Exp. 1) or 5% sucrose-10% EtOH (5S/10E) (Exp. 2).

Results:  Voluntary EtOH consumption differences between the 2 age groups were apparent at higher (i.e., 10 and 20%), but not lower (i.e., 2 and 5%) EtOH concentrations. Adolescent rats consumed more EtOH on a g/kg basis only at 20% EtOH (Exp. 1). Adolescent rats voluntarily consumed more EtOH than adults when maintained at 5S/10E (Exp. 2). To assess whether these age-related differences in voluntary EtOH intake were concentration dependent, rats were trained with 5S/20E and subsequently trained with decreasing EtOH concentrations (i.e., 5S/10E and 5S/5E). Adolescents consumed more EtOH when initially presented with the 5S/10E and 5S/20E EtOH concentrations, and subsequently at the lower 5S/5E EtOH concentration (Exp. 3). There were no differences in preference for the sucrose-only solution, however adolescents tended to consume more sucrose at the 5S sucrose concentration (Exp. 4). Given that adolescents consumed more EtOH at the 5S/10E and 5S/20E, but not at the 5S/5E EtOH concentrations, preference for sucrose does not solely explain the age differences in voluntary EtOH intake observed.

Conclusions:  Overall, results replicate previous work, demonstrating adolescent rats consume more EtOH relative to adults. However, the present results were observed using sweetened EtOH solutions in a limited access paradigm. The present modified sucrose-substitution paradigm may serve as a valid model of human adolescent drinking behavior.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, v. 32, issue 9, p. 1574-1582.