Transient increase in alcohol self-administration following a period of chronic exposure to corticosterone

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Stressful life events and chronic stressors have been associated with escalations in alcohol drinking. Stress exposure leads to the secretion of glucocorticoids (cortisol in the human; corticosterone (CORT) in the rodent). To model a period of heightened elevations in CORT, the present work assessed the effects of chronic exposure to the stress hormone CORT on alcohol self-administration. Male Long Evans rats were trained to self-administer a sweetened alcohol solution (2% sucrose/15% alcohol) resulting in moderate levels of daily alcohol intake (0.5–0.7 g/kg). Following stable baseline operant self-administration, rats received CORT in the drinking water for 7 days. A transient increase in alcohol self-administration was observed on the first self-administration session following CORT exposure, and behavior returned to control levels by the second session. Control experiments determined that this increase in alcohol self-administration was specific to alcohol, unrelated to general motor activation, and functionally dissociated from decreased CORT levels at the time of testing. These results indicate that repeated exposure to heightened levels of stress hormone (e.g., as may be experienced during stressful episodes) has the potential to lead to exacerbated alcohol intake in low to moderate drinkers. Given that maladaptive drinking patterns, such as escalated alcohol drinking following stressful episodes, have the potential to put an individual at risk for future drinking disorders, utilization of this model will be important for examination of neuroadaptations that occur as a consequence of CORT exposure in order to better understand escalated drinking following stressful episodes in nondependent individuals.

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