Poor impulse control predicts inelastic demand for nicotine but not alcohol in rats


Leontien Diergaarde, Department of Anatomy and Neurosciences, VU University Medical Center, Neuroscience Campus Amsterdam, Van der Boechorststraat 7, 1081 BT Amsterdam, the Netherlands. E-mail: l.diergaarde@vumc.nl


Tobacco and alcohol dependence are characterized by continued use despite deleterious health, social and occupational consequences, implying that addicted individuals pay a high price for their use. In behavioral economic terms, such persistent consumption despite increased costs can be conceptualized as inelastic demand. Recent animal studies demonstrated that high-impulsive individuals are more willing to work for nicotine or cocaine infusions than their low-impulsive counterparts, indicating that this trait might be causally related to inelastic drug demand. By employing progressive ratio schedules of reinforcement combined with a behavioral economics approach of analysis, we determined whether trait impulsivity is associated with an insensitivity of nicotine or alcohol consumption to price increments. Rats were trained on a delayed discounting task, measuring impulsive choice. Hereafter, high- and low-impulsive rats were selected and trained to nose poke for intravenous nicotine or oral alcohol. Upon stable self-administration on a continuous reinforcement schedule, the price (i.e. response requirement) was increased. Demand curves, depicting the relationship between price and consumption, were produced using Hursh's exponential demand equation. Similar to human observations, nicotine and alcohol consumption in rats fitted this equation, thereby demonstrating the validity of our model. Moreover, high-impulsive rats displayed inelastic nicotine demand, as their nicotine consumption was less sensitive to price increments as compared with that in low-impulsive rats. Impulsive choice was not related to differences in alcohol demand elasticity. Our model seems well suited for studying nicotine and alcohol demand in rats and, as such, might contribute to our understanding of tobacco and alcohol dependence.