The George lab published a new study providing preclinical evidence that several months of alcohol binge-like drinking facilitates the transition to compulsive-like alcohol drinking, but that regular drinking ultimately leads to similar level of compulsive drinking.
This preclinical study lead by Dr. Adam Kimbrough (Research Associate in the George lab) shows that in rats, 5 months of prior intermittent, but not continuous, access to ethanol, accelerated the transition to excessive ethanol drinking by ~50% during chronic intermittent ethanol vapor exposure.
It is well known that alcohol binge-drinking in humans is associated with a higher risk to develop alcohol use disorders, however it is unclear whether this association is due to genetic vulnerabilities in some individuals or if it is the binge-drinking per se that facilitate the transition to alcohol use disorders. The current study demonstrates that a chronic history of binge-drinking, independently of any genetic vulnerabilities, is sufficient to facilitate the transition to alcohol dependence.
A somehow hidden and surprising result from this study is that rats that had a history of stable and low level of alcohol drinking (a condition often assimilated with low-risk drinking) showed similar level of compulsive-like alcohol drinking when compared to rats with a history of binge-drinking.
In other words, yes binge-drinking will accelerate the transition to dependence, but even low regular level of drinking were associated with increased compulsive drinking. Rats with a history of 5 months of stable drinking continued to drink alcohol even when it was adulterated with very aversive solution, up to 10 times higher in concentration.
The George lab is currently using these animal models to identify the neuronal networks responsible for compulsive alcohol drinking.
Kimbrough A, Kim S, Cole M, Brennan M, George O. Intermittent Access to Ethanol Drinking Facilitates the Transition to Excessive Drinking After Chronic Intermittent Ethanol Vapor Exposure. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2017 Aug;41(8):1502-1509. doi: 10.1111/acer.13434. Epub 2017 Jul 5. PubMed PMID: 28679148; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5531063.