, Volume 101, Issue 2, pp 233-239

Free choice ethanol intake of laboratory rats under different social conditions

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Abstract

To study the effects of different kinds of social deprivation on voluntary ethanol (ETOH) intake male Wistar rats were housed by (a) individual caging, (b) “contact” caging (partial social deprivation), and (c) group caging (four individuals per cage). In the latter condition the individuals were separated once a week from each other for 24 h. The rats simultaneously received water 5%, 10% and 20% ETOH for a period of 14 weeks. Additional control animals received water. Isolated individuals drank significantly more alcohol than group-housed or contact-caged rats. After a few days they preferred the 20% solution. Circadian measures revealed a discontinuous intake of high doses (> 0.5 g/kg/h) during short time periods. Contact-caged rats consumed much less ETOH, but both the preference for 20% ETOH and the circadian course of intake were similar to those occurring after isolation. ETOH intake of group-housed individuals was low. These individuals preferred the 5% solution and continuously consumed small ETOH doses. During the period of short-term isolation they drank even more ETOH than long-term isolated individuals. In contrast to the latter, the enhancement of intake decreased after some weeks. It is suggested that the differences between the housing groups not only reflect different degrees of isolation stress, but may also be explained by a contribution of different reinforcing or aversive psychotropic effects of ETOH. Reduction of isolation stress is probably most important in the situation of short term separation, whereas dose-dependent reinforcement via social stimulation or sedation may affect the drug taking behavior under the other social conditions.