Academic journal article Alcohol Research

Animal Models in Alcohol Research

Academic journal article Alcohol Research

Animal Models in Alcohol Research

Article excerpt

Animal models are important tools in the study of alcohol use, abuse, and dependence because they allow researchers to use methods that cannot be used with human subjects. Animal models have been developed to study various aspects of alcohol use and dependence, including alcohol-seeking behavior, alcohol-related organ damage, tolerance to alcohol, and physical dependence on alcohol. Because animal models can be genetically manipulated, they are also valuable for research into the genetic determinants of alcoholism. Issues surrounding the use of animal models in alcohol research include the species of animal used, the method of alcohol administration, and the model's face and predictive validity.

KEY WORDS: animal model; scientific model; research; AOD (alcohol or other drug) dependence; AOD tolerance; body part; animal selectively bred for AOD preference; quantitative trait locus; route of administration; theory of AODU (AOD use, abuse, and dependence)

Because of ethical concerns and experimental difficulties in studying alcoholism in humans, a sub stantial portion of research on the topic of alcohol intoxication and dependence has used nonhuman animals as experimental models. A model, in this sense, refers to something that is used to help visualize that which cannot be directly observed. In other words, by using experimental animals, scientists are attempting to dissect the complex disorder of alcoholism, in part by breaking it down into its component behaviors and studying the determinants of those behaviors.

The behaviors that characterize alcoholism in humans, according to the criteria for diagnosing alcoholism outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) (American Psychiatric Association 1994), include the following: (1) tolerance, or the need for increased amounts of alcohol to obtain the desired effects; (2) withdrawal symptoms after discontinuation of alcohol use; (3) taking alcohol in large amounts over periods longer than initially intended; (4) persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to decrease alcohol use; (5) spending a great deal of rime acquiring alcohol; (6) reducing important social and occupational activities because of alcohol use; and (7) continued use despite a recurrent physical or psychological problem associated with alcohol use.

One system (A) is a model for another system (B) if the study of A furthers the understanding of B, regardless of any causal connection between them (Kaplan 1964; McClearn 1988). For the model to be efficient, system A should be simpler than system B (McClearn 1988). Therefore, the animal models that are most commonly used in alcohol research have been designed in an attempt to understand, at the physiological, biochemical, or molecular level, the basis for a particular behavior that is believed to be an analog of a behavior associated with human alcoholism.

This article discusses the advantages of using animal models, especially in alcohol research, presents issues related to the development and use of animal models of alcoholism, and describes various animal models that have been developed to study aspects of alcoholism. We have focused, for the most part, on animal models of excessive alcohol intake, because this is the key factor that leads to organ damage and alcohol dependence. The crucial question to be answered using these models is the following: Why do some people consume alcohol in quantities that are injurious to themselves and to those around them? We also describe in a more limited way certain models that are used to determine how alcohol produces damage to various organs. These descriptions are included as examples of models that can be used to understand the results of excessive alcohol drinking, rather than the mechanisms which motivate people to drink alcohol.


Animal models allow researchers to use methods that would be unethical with human subjects. …

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