Age Differences in Ethanol Discrimination: Acquisition and Ethanol Dose Generalization Curves Following Multiple Training Conditions in Adolescent and Adult Rats


  • Rachel I. Anderson,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Psychology, Binghamton University, Binghamton, New York
    • Reprint requests and Present address: Rachel I. Anderson, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Medical University of South Carolina, 67 President Street, Charleston SC 29425; E-mail:

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  • Linda P. Spear

    1. Department of Psychology, Binghamton University, Binghamton, New York
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Adolescents and adults vary in sensitivity to many effects of ethanol (EtOH), although it is unknown whether they also differ in their perception of EtOH's subjective cues. This study characterized EtOH discrimination in adolescent and adult male rats using a rapidly acquired Pavlovian conditioned approach procedure.


EtOH at 1 of the 3 training doses (0.75, 1.0, or 1.25 g/kg) served as either a positive (POS) or negative (NOS) occasion setter. Each 20-minute training session consisted of eight 15-second presentations of 2 cue lights located on either side of a dipper delivering chocolate Boost®. For POS-trained rats, the cue lights reliably predicted 5-second presentations of chocolate Boost during EtOH but not saline sessions, with the opposite contingencies used for NOS-trained rats. Anticipatory approach behavior (head entries into the reward delivery area) in the presence and absence of the cue lights was used to calculate discrimination scores on EtOH and saline sessions. Following acquisition, various doses of EtOH (0 to 1.5 g/kg) were administered to establish generalization curves.


Although animals of both ages responded differentially on EtOH and saline sessions by the end of acquisition, adults met criterion more quickly and had higher discrimination scores during reinforced sessions than adolescents. Whereas adolescents failed to demonstrate any dose-dependent responding during testing when trained with the 0.75 or 1.25 g/kg EtOH doses, adults demonstrated broader EtOH generalization during testing sessions following training with all 3 EtOH doses. Among adolescents trained with 1.0 g/kg EtOH, less generalization occurred relative to adults.


Adolescents were less sensitive to EtOH's interoceptive effects, indicating that EtOH is likely a more salient cue for adults than for adolescents. These findings contribute to evidence that suggests adolescent-typical insensitivity to internal cues that typically limit EtOH consumption may contribute to the elevated intake commonly reported during this developmental period.