Evidence for a Long-Lasting Compulsive Alcohol Seeking Phenotype in Rats.


Excessive drinking to intoxication is the major behavioral characteristic of those addicted to alcohol but it is not the only one. Indeed, individuals addicted to alcohol also crave alcoholic beverages and spend time and put much effort into compulsively seeking alcohol, before eventually drinking large amounts. Unlike this excessive drinking, for which treatments exist, compulsive alcohol seeking is therefore another key feature of the persistence of alcohol addiction since it leads to relapse and for which there are few effective treatments. Here we provide novel evidence for the existence in rats of an individual vulnerability to switch from controlled to compulsive, punishment-resistant alcohol seeking. Alcohol-preferring rats given access to alcohol under an intermittent 2-bottle choice procedure to establish their alcohol-preferring phenotype were subsequently trained instrumentally to seek and take alcohol on a chained schedule of reinforcement. When stable seeking-taking performance had been established, completion of cycles of seeking responses resulted unpredictably either in punishment (0.45 mA foot-shock) or the opportunity to make a taking response for access to alcohol. Compulsive alcohol seeking, maintained in the face of the risk of punishment, emerged in only a subset of rats with a predisposition to prefer and drink alcohol, and was maintained for almost a year. We show further that a selective and potent μ-opioid receptor antagonist (GSK1521498) reduced both alcohol seeking and alcohol intake in compulsive and non-compulsive rats, indicating its therapeutic potential to promote abstinence and prevent relapse in individuals addicted to alcohol.