Preclinical studies of alcohol binge drinking


Address for correspondence: John C. Crabbe, Ph.D, Senior Research Career Scientist, VA Medical Center (R&D 12), 3710 SW US Veterans Hospital Road, Portland, Oregon 97239.


Binge drinking is prevalent and has serious biomedical consequences. In children, adolescents, and young adults, it is a prominent risk factor for later development of alcohol-use disorders. Many preclinical models have been employed to study the genetic risks for and biomedical consequences of alcohol drinking. However, these models historically did not result in blood-alcohol concentrations (BACs) exceeding 80 mg%; this relatively modest level is the threshold that currently defines a binge session, according to the NIAAA and CDC. Nevertheless, in alcohol-dependent rodents, binge drinking has been well documented. Key neurobiological substrates localized to brain reward and stress systems have been identified. Studies of newer models of binge drinking without dependence are reviewed here. In these models, rodents, non-human primates, and flies will drink enough to reach high BACs. They often display observable signs of intoxication. The neurobiological consequences of these episodes of binge drinking without dependence are reviewed, and preliminary evidence for roles for GABA, glutamate, opioid peptides, and corticotropin releasing factor are discussed, as is the need for more work to identify the antecedents and consequences of binge drinking in both animal models and humans.