Alcohol withdrawal and conditioning

Hilary J. Little, David N. Stephens, Tamzon L. Ripley, Gilyana Borlikova, Theodora Duka, Manja Schubert, Doris Albrecht, Howard C. Becker, Marcello F. Lopez, Friedbert Weiss, Colin Drummond, Michelle Peoples, Christopher Cunningham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


This review contains the proceedings from a symposium held at the RSA conference in 2003 on "Alcohol Withdrawal and Conditioning." The presentations covered a range of interactions between conditioning and alcohol withdrawal, in both animal behavior and the clinic. Dr. D.N. Stephens first described his studies exploring the consequences of alcohol dependence and repeated experience of withdrawal on the conditioning process. His data suggested that repeated withdrawal from moderate alcohol intake impairs amygdala-dependent mechanisms for learning about aversive events. Dr. H. Becker then detailed studies examining the consequences of repeated ethanol withdrawal experience on subsequent ethanol drinking behavior in mice, and conditions in which motivational properties of odor cues that are associated with different phases of ethanol withdrawal influence such relapse behavior. The data suggested that cues associated with acute withdrawal or "recovery" from withdrawal may serve as modulating factors in influencing subsequent ethanol drinking behavior, and that the timing of the cues determines their consequences. Dr. F. Weiss described recent findings from animal models of relapse that suggested the efficacy of alcohol-associated contextual stimuli in eliciting alcohol-seeking behavior resembles the endurance of conditioned cue reactivity and cue-induced cocaine craving in humans. The interactive effects of stress and ethanol-related environmental stimuli were found to be dependent on concurrent activation of endogenous opioid and corticotropin-releasing factor systems. Conditioning factors (i.e., exposure to drug-associated stimuli) and stress could therefore interact to augment vulnerability to relapse. Dr. C. Drummond then addressed the clinical aspects of conditioning during alcohol withdrawal and described studies showing exposure of alcoholics to alcohol-related cues elicited greater subjective and physiological responses than exposure to neutral cues. The former responsivity showed a relationship with a measure of motivation to drink alcohol. Finally, Dr. C. Cunningham provided a summary of the concepts involved in the presentations and discussed the conditioning processes that affect behavior during and after alcohol withdrawal.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)453-464
Number of pages12
JournalAlcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Alcohol Withdrawal
  • Conditioning
  • Learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Toxicology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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