Time-dependent negative reinforcement of ethanol intake by alleviation of acute withdrawal

Christopher L. Cunningham, Tara L. Fidler, Kevin V. Murphy, Jennifer A. Mulgrew, Phoebe J. Smitasin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Background: Drinking to alleviate the symptoms of acute withdrawal is included in diagnostic criteria for alcoholism, but the contribution of acute withdrawal relief to high alcohol intake has been difficult to model in animals. Methods: Ethanol dependence was induced by passive intragastric ethanol infusions in C57BL/6J (B6) and DBA/2J (D2) mice; nondependent control animals received water infusions. Mice were then allowed to self-administer ethanol or water intragastrically. Results: The time course of acute withdrawal was similar to that produced by chronic ethanol vapor exposure in mice, reaching a peak at 7 to 9 hours and returning to baseline within 24 hours; withdrawal severity was greater in D2 than in B6 mice (experiment 1). Postwithdrawal delays in initial ethanol access (1, 3, or 5 days) reduced the enhancement in later ethanol intake normally seen in D2 (but not B6) mice allowed to self-infuse ethanol during acute withdrawal (experiment 2). The postwithdrawal enhancement of ethanol intake persisted over a 5-day abstinence period in D2 mice (experiment 3). D2 mice allowed to drink ethanol during acute withdrawal drank more ethanol and self-infused more ethanol than nondependent mice (experiment 4). Conclusions: Alcohol access during acute withdrawal increased later alcohol intake in a time-dependent manner, an effect that may be related to a genetic difference in sensitivity to acute withdrawal. This promising model of negative reinforcement encourages additional research on the mechanisms underlying acute withdrawal relief and its role in determining risk for alcoholism.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)249-255
Number of pages7
JournalBiological Psychiatry
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 1 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Alcohol
  • dependence
  • inbred mice
  • negative reinforcement
  • self-administration
  • withdrawal

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biological Psychiatry


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