Academic journal article Alcohol Research

An Economic Approach to Animal Models of Alcoholism

Academic journal article Alcohol Research

An Economic Approach to Animal Models of Alcoholism

Article excerpt

Researchers have long sought an animal model for human alcohol consumption. This article describes an economic-based approach to a model of alcohol preference in rats. The procedures are based on an analogy between clinical accounts of human drinking and the economic analysis of consumption. Both clinical and economic investigators typically define consumption patterns in terms of the influence of negative consequences. For example, the clinical account emphasizes the persistence of heavy drinking despite mounting alcoholrelated aversive consequences, and in economic analyses, the term "inelastic demand" is used to refer to the persistence of consumption despite large increases in prices. In the experimental procedure described here, rats worked for alcohol and food. Presses on one lever earned a drink of 10 percent alcohol plus saccharin, and presses on a second lever earned isocaloric drinks of a starch solution. After behavior stabilized, the response requirements (which are analogous to prices) for one or both drinks were increased. The rats maintained baseline alcohol consumption levels despite large increases in the "price" of alcohol. In contrast, the same price increases markedly reduced starch intake. That is, food consumption was sensitive to price hikes, but alcohol consumption was not. The results demonstrate that a common economic framework can be used to describe human and animal behavior and, hence, the possibility of an animal model of human alcohol consumption. The article also points out that economic concepts provide a framework for understanding a wide range of human drinking patterns, including controlled social drinking and excessive alcoholic drinking. KEY WORDS: animal model; economic theory of AODU (AOD [alcohol or other drug] use, abuse, and dependence); economic elasticity; AOD price; AOD use pattern; AOD preference; taste conditioning; operant conditioning; choice-making behavior

For more than half a century, researchers have been plying rats with alcohol in the hope of developing a valid animal model of human alcohol consumption (e.g., Richter and Campbell 1940). Following up on the observation that alcoholism tends to run in families, one strategy has been to breed alcohol-consuming rats (e.g., Li and Lumeng 1984). Other research facilities have focused on drinking history. For example, Samson and his colleagues (1988) found that rats that drank sweetened alcoholic drinks would subsequently drink larger amounts of unsweetened alcohol solutions. Our approach has been to manipulate the economic conditions governing access to an alcoholic drink. The rats were placed in a setting in which lever presses would earn either a sweetened alcohol drink or food. We then varied the number of times the rats had to press the levers in order to obtain alcohol, food, or both. In this way, it was possible to examine the relationship between the "price," defined as the lever press requirement, and alcohol consumption. For example, would an increase in price have more of an effect on alcohol consumption or on food consumption? The theoretical background for this approach includes clinical accounts of drinking, such as those provided by the American Psychiatric Association (APA)(1994), and elementary economic ideas concerning the relationship between changes in price and changes in consumption. This article begins with the clinical account of alcohol consumption, as it sets the stage for this and all animal models of human drinking.

CLINICAL ACCOUNT OF DRINKING AND THE ECONOMIC ACCOUNT OF CONSUMPTION: AN ANALOGY

The APA publishes a widely used diagnostic manual (i.e., the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM [1994]) that includes a set of criteria for identifying individuals as "abusers" of alcohol or as "dependent" on alcohol. The diagnoses are based on expert opinion and field research, and for many syndromes, including problem drinking, they yield a substantial degree of inter-rater reliability (e. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.