, Volume 236, Issue 12, pp 3625–3639 | Cite as

Acute alcohol exposure dose-dependently alleviates social avoidance in adolescent mice and inhibits social investigation in adult mice

  • Joel S. Raymond
  • Bianca B. Wilson
  • Oliver Tan
  • Anand Gururajan
  • Michael T. BowenEmail author
Original Investigation



Motivations for alcohol consumption often focus on ethanol’s purported prosocial effects: social enhancement and reduction of socially focused anxiety. Despite substantial research supporting prosocial effects, contrary research exists demonstrating alcohol-elicited antisocial and asocial behaviours. Additionally, evidence typically fails to delineate whether alcohol-induced prosocial effects are due to alcohol expectancies or pharmacological actions of ethanol. Studies exploring ethanol’s pharmacological effects on social behaviour and factors that modulate apparent contradictory prosocial versus asocial effects are lacking.


This study investigated whether factors of age, ethanol dose and social fear modulate ethanol-induced pharmacological effects on sociability and social anxiety–like avoidance.


Experiments examined the acute effects of ethanol doses (0, 0.25, 0.8, 1.6 g/kg; i.p.) in adult (10-week-old) and adolescent (PND 31–33) C57BL/6J male mice on social interaction using a social fear conditioning paradigm. Control experiments assessed whether ethanol-induced effects were social-specific.


In adult mice, no specific effects of ethanol on social avoidance were observed at any dose. However, high-dose ethanol (1.6 g/kg) suppressed social approach in all adult mice. In contrast, low-dose ethanol (0.25 g/kg) alleviated social avoidance in adolescent mice and no social suppression was observed at higher ethanol doses. Thus, higher doses of ethanol impair social behaviour in adult mice, whereas lower doses specifically alleviate social anxiety–like avoidance in adolescent mice.


Age, dose and social fear are critical modulators of acute ethanol-induced pharmacological effects on social behaviour. Inconsistencies in ethanol-induced social consequences appear at least partly mediated by pharmacological interactions—not solely alcohol expectancies.


Ethanol Alcohol Social fear conditioning Social avoidance Mice 



The authors disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This study was supported by Australian National Health and Medical Research Council funding to MTB (1092046).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

213_2019_5335_MOESM1_ESM.docx (705 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 705 kb).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joel S. Raymond
    • 1
    • 2
  • Bianca B. Wilson
    • 1
    • 2
  • Oliver Tan
    • 1
    • 2
  • Anand Gururajan
    • 1
    • 2
  • Michael T. Bowen
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.School of Psychology, Faculty of ScienceThe University of SydneySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Brain and Mind CentreThe University of SydneySydneyAustralia

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