Background: Age-specific characteristics may contribute to the elevation in ethanol intake commonly reported among adolescents compared to adults. This study was designed to examine age-related differences in sensitivity to ethanol’s aversive properties using a conditioned taste aversion (CTA) procedure with sucrose serving as the conditioned stimulus (CS). Given that ontogenetic differences in responsiveness to stressors have been previously reported, the role of stressor exposure on the development of CTA was also assessed.
Methods: Experiment 1 examined the influence of 5 days of prior restraint stress exposure on the expression of CTA in a 2-bottle test following 1 pairing of a sucrose solution with ethanol. In Experiment 2, the effects of 7 days of social isolation on the development of CTA were observed using a 1-bottle test following multiple sucrose–ethanol pairings.
Results: This study revealed age-related differences in the development of ethanol-induced CTA. In Experiment 1, adolescents required a higher dose of ethanol than adults to demonstrate an aversion. In Experiment 2, adolescents required not only a higher ethanol dose but also more pairings of ethanol with the sucrose CS. No effects of prior stressor exposure were observed in either experiment.
Conclusions: Together, these experiments demonstrate an adolescent-specific insensitivity to the aversive properties of ethanol that elicit CTA, a pattern not influenced by repeated restraint stress or housing in social isolation. This age-related insensitivity to the dysphoric effects of ethanol is consistent with other work from our laboratory, adding further to the evidence that adolescent rats are less susceptible to negative consequences of ethanol that may serve as cues to curb consumption.