Researchers at National Institute on Drug Abuse have found that rats behave similarly to human alcohol abusers in that they resume drinking after punishment related threats, which initially make them to refrain from drinking, fade away.
The finding is important because a significant amount of addiction research is performed in animals, using models of addiction, before it is translated to work in humans.
"The better our animal models fit human alcoholism, the more our animal research will help us to understand the complexity of the human disorder and to develop new treatments," commented Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry.
Currently, the most commonly employed techniques to achieve alcohol abstinence in animal work are forced abstinence and/or extinction training, where a lever press that used to consistently deliver alcohol no longer does so. These models of relapse are limited because they do not incorporate behaviors that mimic a human's desire to avoid negative consequences of drinking.
To address this divergence between animal models and the human condition, Nathan Marchant and colleagues developed a rat relapse model in which voluntary alcohol intake is suppressed by punishment in an environment that is different from the original alcohol intake environment.
They showed that when rats were re-exposed to the original alcohol self-administration environment, after suppression of alcohol intake in a different environment by punishment, they immediately relapsed to alcohol seeking.
"A potential clinical implication of this preclinical finding is that abstinence induced by introducing adverse consequences on alcohol intake in inpatient treatment clinics would have a limited effect on subsequent alcohol use in the home environment after completion of treatment," commented Marchant.