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Keywords:

  • Craving;
  • Cues;
  • Drinking;
  • Ethanol;
  • Self-Administration

Background

Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) may play a critical role in alcohol reinforcement and consumption. The effects of varenicline, an nAChR partial agonist, on alcohol seeking and self-administration responses were evaluated in 2 groups of baboons trained under a 3-component chained schedule of reinforcement (CSR).

Methods

Alcohol (4% w/v; n = 4; alcohol group) or a preferred nonalcoholic beverage (n = 4; control group) was available for self-administration only in component 3 of the CSR. Responses in component 2, required to gain access to alcohol, provided indices of seeking behavior. Varenicline (0.032 to 0.32 mg/kg; 0.32 mg/kg twice daily [BID]) and vehicle were administered before CSR sessions subchronically (5 consecutive days). Higher doses (0.56, 1.0 mg/kg) were attempted, but discontinued due to adverse effects.

Results

Subchronic varenicline administration significantly (p < 0.05) decreased the seeking response rate and increased the time to complete the response requirement to gain access to the daily supply of alcohol at the higher doses (0.32 mg/kg, 0.32 mg/kg BID dosing) in the alcohol group compared with the control group. Mean number of drinks was significantly decreased (p < 0.05), but effects did not differ between groups. The pattern of drinking was characterized by a high rate during an initial bout. Number of drinks during and duration of the initial bout were significantly decreased in the alcohol group, compared with the control group, at 0.32 mg/kg (< 0.05).

Conclusions

Varenicline may be clinically useful for reducing alcohol-seeking behaviors prior to alcohol exposure. Given the modest effects on drinking itself, varenicline may be better suited as a treatment in combination with a pharmacotherapy that significantly reduces alcohol consumption.