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Keywords:

  • Cross-sensitization;
  • cross-tolerance;
  • drug of choice;
  • escalation of drug use;
  • polydrug abuse;
  • self-medication

ABSTRACT

Increased drug availability can precipitate a rapid escalation of drug consumption in both vulnerable humans and laboratory animals. Drug intake escalation is observed across a broad spectrum of drugs of abuse, including stimulants, opiates, ethanol and phencyclidine. Whether and to what extent the processes underlying escalated levels of drug intake vary across different substances is poorly understood. The present study sought to address this question in rats self-administering both cocaine and heroin—two addictive drugs with both common and different neurobiological effects. In experiment 1, we determined how cocaine intake is initially related to heroin intake in non-escalated rats with a limited access to both drugs. In experiment 2, two groups of rats were initially allowed to self-administer either cocaine or heroin for 1 hour per day and then after behavioral stabilization, for 6 hours per day to precipitate drug intake escalation. In each group, dose-injection functions for cocaine and heroin self-administration were generated. In experiment 1, regardless of the dose, rats with a high intake of one drug did not necessarily have a high intake of the alternate drug. In experiment 2, escalated levels of heroin or cocaine self-administration did not generalize to the other drug. This outcome was confirmed in a third drug substitution experiment following different access lengths to cocaine self-administration (i.e. 1, 4 and 8 hours). The processes underlying spontaneous and escalated drug overconsumption appear thus to vary across different drugs of abuse. More research should be devoted in the future to these differences.