Get access

Ethanol Intake in the Juvenile, Adolescent, and Adult Rat: Effects of Age and Prior Exposure to Ethanol


  • This research was supported by Grants RO1AA11960, R21AA12762, and R01AA13098 from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to NES.

Reprint requests: Norman E. Spear, Department of Psychology, Binghamton University, Binghamton, New York 13902-6000; Fax: 607-777-2677; E-mail:


Background: Initial ingestion of ethanol by naïve rats has seemed to decrease dramatically with age. During the preweanling period, infant rats consume large quantities of high concentrations of ethanol without initiating procedures, in some instances exceeding doses required for severe motor incoordination. During adulthood, however, initial ingestion of ethanol without initiation procedures is low and infrequent. In the present study, the ontogeny of ethanol intake was measured in juvenile, adolescent and adult rats using a technique [consume off the floor (COF)] similar to that used to study intake during infancy. How this initial experience with ethanol affected subsequent affinity for ethanol intake was later assessed using 2-bottle choice preference tests.

Methods: Independent ingestion of ethanol was measured at 3 developmental periods, the juvenile period (P22–P28), adolescence (P30–P34) and adulthood (P60–P64), with systematic variation in ethanol concentration (15 or 30% v/v) and palatability (sweetness) of ethanol. Blood ethanol concentrations (BECs) were determined in all animals. This dependent variable served as an estimate of absolute ethanol ingestion. Three COF sessions were conducted for each age group. Following these sessions animals' ethanol consumption was also assessed using a 2-bottle choice test (water vs 15% v/v unsweetened ethanol).

Results: In all experiments, groups consuming 30% v/v ethanol exhibited significantly higher BECs than those exposed to 15% v/v ethanol. Adding saccharin to the ethanol increased absolute ethanol ingestion in only the oldest animals. During the pre-exposure phase (COF sessions) of each experiment, absolute ethanol intake was found to decline with repeated exposures. Sex effects were particularly evident during later stages of ontogeny (adolescents and adults). The overall pattern of results indicated that juveniles relative to adults show a marked predisposition to consume highly concentrated ethanol solutions and that BECs derived from the COF sessions influenced ethanol acceptance patterns in the subsequent 2-bottle test.

Conclusions: Using the (COF) technique with BECs as an estimate of intake, absolute ethanol consumption seems to be quite high early in ontogeny and decline gradually into adulthood. Adding saccharin to ethanol solutions at the concentration used in the present study (0.1%) was generally not sufficient to increase absolute ethanol intake from the floor, except during adulthood. The experimental strategy employed in this study represents a novel approach for examining ethanol acceptance patterns across ontogeny and how experience with the process of intoxication affects subsequent ethanol preferences.

Get access to the full text of this article