Abuse of alcohol during adolescence continues to be a problem, and it has been shown that earlier onset of drinking predicts increased alcohol abuse problems later in life. High levels of impulsivity have been demonstrated to be characteristic of alcoholics, and impulsivity has also been shown to predict later alcohol use in teenage subjects, showing that impulsivity may precede the development of alcohol use disorders. These experiments examined adolescent drinking in a high-drinking, relatively impulsive mouse population and assessed its effects on adult drinking and adult impulsivity.
Experiment 1: Selectively bred high-alcohol preferring (HAPII) mice were given either alcohol (free-choice access) or water only for 2 weeks during middle adolescence or adulthood. All mice were given free-choice access to alcohol 30 days later, in adulthood. Experiment 2: Adolescent HAPII mice drank alcohol and water, or water alone, for 2 weeks, and were then trained to perform a delay discounting task as adults to measure impulsivity. In each experiment, effects of volitional ethanol (EtOH) consumption on later behavior were assessed. We expected adolescent alcohol exposure to increase subsequent drinking and impulsivity.
Mice consumed significant quantities of EtOH, reaching average blood ethanol concentrations (BECs) of 142 mg/dl (adolescent) or 154 mg/dl (adult) in Experiment 1. Adolescent mice in Experiment 2 reached an average of 108 mg/dl. Mice exposed to alcohol in either adolescence or adulthood showed a transient increase in EtOH consumption, but we observed no differences in impulsivity in adult mice as a function of whether mice drank alcohol during adolescence.
These findings indicate that HAPII mice drink intoxicating levels of alcohol during both adolescence and adulthood and that this volitional intake has long-term effects on subsequent drinking behavior. Nonetheless, this profound exposure to alcohol during adolescence does not increase impulsivity in adulthood, indicating that long-term changes in drinking are mediated by mechanisms other than impulsivity.
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