Context-drug pairings enhance tolerance to ethanol-induced disruption of operant responding

Christopher L. Cunningham, Steven M. Losli, Fred O. Risinger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Much of the research implicating learning in the development of tolerance to ethanol-induced impairment has used an experimental design in which different groups receive drug either before or after an opportunity to perform an instrumental or operant task. The stronger tolerance observed in subjects who perform while intoxicated is most often attributed to the reinforced practice of a learned compensatory response. Using an experimental procedure modeled after Chen (1979), the present study examined an alternative theoretical basis for tolerance in the before-versus-after design. Specifically, the effects of Pavlovian context-drug pairings were assessed under circumstances that precluded reinforced practice of the operant response. Three groups of food-deprived rats were initially trained to barpress for sucrose on an FR15 schedule. After 30 sessions, the bar was retracted and the dipper was covered for a 3-day tolerance acquisition phase. During this phase, each group received an IP injection 15 min before and 45 min after each session. The Paired group received ethanol (1.2 g/kg) before and saline after the session, thus pairing ethanol with cues of the test chamber. The Unpaired group received saline before and ethanol after the session, while the No-Drug group always received saline. During a final test phase, all groups received ethanol (1.5 g/kg) before access to sucrose on the FR schedule. The Paired group completed the first FR15 sequence more rapidly than either control group, indicating that context-ethanol pairings enhanced tolerance to the drug's disruptive effect on the initiation of operant responding. However, there was little evidence of conditioned stimulus control over tolerance to ethanol's thermal effect. Overall, these data suggest that stimulus-drug contingencies occurring in operant procedures may play an important role in development of tolerance to ethanol's behavioral effects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)217-222
Number of pages6
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Oct 1992
Externally publishedYes


  • Behavioral tolerance
  • Body temperature
  • Conditioned tolerance
  • Contingent tolerance
  • Ethanol
  • Hypothermia
  • Operant schedule
  • Pavlovian conditioning
  • Rats

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology


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