Ethanol self-administration in rats responding under concurrent schedules for milk or ethanol plus milk

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The relative reinforcing strength of drugs can be characterized by the distribution of operant behavior during the availability of other reinforcing stimuli. ‘Choice’ procedures are not widely used in rats, with the exception of ethanol self-administration in which there often is a choice between ethanol and water, which typically does not maintain much responding. A procedure was developed to evaluate the relative reinforcing strength of ethanol in rats when a similar appetitive reinforcer is concurrently available. Rats were trained to respond on two levers under concurrent fixed-ratio schedules of reinforcement with milk (1–50%) or ethanol+milk (4–32% ethanol+5–10% milk). Daily 60-min sessions began with a forced sample of each reinforcer, followed by the concurrent schedules. Under this schedule, rats preferentially allocated their responding to the ethanol-associated lever under conditions of ethanol+5% milk versus 5% milk, but neither preferred nor avoided ethanol when ethanol+10% milk versus 10% milk was available. When 8% ethanol+5% milk was available, 85±6% of responses were directed toward the ethanol-associated lever and the mean ethanol intake was 1.55±0.10 g/kg. The response rate decreased monotonically with the concentration of ethanol. Naltrexone injections did not affect the distribution of responding, but slightly decreased ethanol intake. It is concluded that stable behavior can be maintained under concurrent fixed-ratio schedules of ethanol and milk presentation in rats, resulting in intake of behaviorally active amounts of ethanol.

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