Monday, September 28, 2009

Watch those shots of booze!

I've always been curious about the attraction that shots of sugar and alcohol (peppermint schnaps, etc.) have for adolescent drinkers. Now we have a possible animal model for this behavior: Rats fed tasty 'jelly shots' containing alcohol during adolescence became bigger risk-takers than teetotaller rats when presented with a lever game designed by Bernstein et. al. When the adult rats were faced with a choice between pressing a lever for a guaranteed two sugar pills or a lever that could give them either nothing or four sugar pills, the individuals exposed to alcohol in adolescence tended to gamble more often. This effect on behavior could still be seen three months after the alcohol was discontinued. The results indicate that the risk-taking behavior is caused by the alcohol. Here is the abstract of the work:
Individuals who abused alcohol at an early age show decision-making impairments. However, the question of whether maladaptive choice constitutes a predisposing factor to, or a consequence resulting from, alcohol exposure remains open. To examine whether a causal link exists between voluntary alcohol consumption during adolescence and adult decision making the present studies used a rodent model. High levels of voluntary alcohol intake were promoted by providing adolescent rats with access to alcohol in a palatable gel matrix under nondeprivation conditions. A probability-discounting instrumental response task offered a choice between large but uncertain rewards and small but certain rewards to assess risk-based choice in adulthood either 3 weeks or 3 months following alcohol exposure. While control animals' performance on this task closely conformed to a predictive model of risk-neutral value matching, rats that consumed high levels of alcohol during adolescence violated this model, demonstrating greater risk preference. Evidence of significant risk bias was still present when choice was assessed 3 months following discontinuation of alcohol access. These findings provide evidence that adolescent alcohol exposure may lead to altered decision making during adulthood and this model offers a promising approach to the investigation of the neurobiological underpinnings of this link.

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