Prior research suggests that binge drinking may increase people's risk of developing alcohol use disorders (AUDs), especially adolescents and young adults. It is unclear whether different drinking patterns – for example, intermittent versus regular drinking –have a different impact on the compulsive drinking that characterizes people with AUDs. This study used rats to examine whether chronic intermittent alcohol access facilitates a transition to compulsive-like drinking.
Researchers gave rats access to either intermittent (binge) or continuous (stable) alcohol for five months, followed by chronic exposure to alcohol vapors. They then measured the rats' escalation of alcohol intake and compulsive-like responses to alcohol.
Rats given intermittent access to alcohol escalated their alcohol intake weeks earlier and consumed more alcohol than those with continuous access. These results support previous findings of a causal relationship between binge-like drinking in young adults and a higher risk for AUDs later in adulthood. The authors suggested that the intermittent-drinking animal model is highly relevant to the early stages of alcohol abuse, and may reflect neuroadaptations that produce a faster transition to alcohol dependence. However, a surprising result was that chronic daily drinking at a stable level (without binges) was as likely as a history of binge drinking to result in compulsive alcohol drinking. Both of these groups had similar levels of compulsive drinking, which were higher than dependent animals with no previous history of continuous or intermittent drinking. These results suggest that binge drinking is particularly likely to contribute to the development of compulsive alcohol consumption.