An economic approach to animal models of alcoholism
Alcohol Research and Health
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
... ence of heavy drinking despite mounting alcohol-related 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.