, Volume 235, Issue 1, pp 109–120 | Cite as

Effect of repeated abstinence on chronic ethanol self-administration in the rhesus monkey

  • Daicia C. Allen
  • Steven W. Gonzales
  • Kathleen A. Grant
Original Investigation



Abstinence-based approaches to treating alcohol use disorder (AUD) are highly prevalent, but abstinence from chronic drinking may exacerbate subsequent levels of alcohol intake in relapse.


Use a non-human primate model that encompasses a range of chronic voluntary ethanol drinking to isolate biological responses to repeated cycles of imposed abstinence as a function of baseline voluntary alcohol drinking levels.


Over a 26-month protocol, young adult male rhesus macaques were first induced to drink alcohol and then given continuous access to 4% (w/v) ethanol (n = 8) or water (n = 4) for approximately 14 months, followed by three 28- to 35-day abstinence phases, with 3 months of ethanol access in between. Ethanol intake and blood ethanol concentration (BEC) were the primary dependent variables. Observational signs of physical dependence and circulating ACTH and cortisol were monitored.


Prior to abstinence, stable, categorical, individual differences in voluntary ethanol intake under chronic access conditions were found. Following abstinence, categorical “non-heavy” drinking subjects increased drinking transiently (increased between 0.7 and 1.4 g/kg/day in first month after abstinence) but returned to baseline after 3 months. Categorical “heavy” drinkers, however, maintained drinking 1.0–2.6 g/kg above baseline for over 3 months following abstinence. Signs of physical dependence were rare, although huddling and social withdrawal increased in ethanol and control subjects. The most prominent effect on hormonal measures was heightened cortisol during abstinence that increased to a greater extent in ethanol subjects.


Involuntary abstinence increases drinking in the absence of overt physical withdrawal symptoms, and heavy drinkers are more robustly affected compared to non-heavy drinkers.


Forced abstinence Ethanol Monkey HPA axis Self-administration Relapse Macaque Cortisol Extinction 



The authors would like to acknowledge Andrew Woodall, Molly McGinnis, and Devin Owen who provided essential technical assistance in carrying out these experiments. These studies were funded by grants from the US National Institutes of Health F31 AA024660, AA019431, AA013641, and U01 AA013510.

Authors’ contribution

K.A.G designed the experiment. D.C.A. conducted the experiment and analyzed the data. S.W.G conducted preliminary data processing and analysis. D.C.A and K.A.G. wrote the paper. All authors critically reviewed the paper and approved the final version for publication.

Supplementary material

213_2017_4748_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (51 kb)
Figure S1 Water intake (ml/kg) during abstinence. A,B) Water intake on the ‘water’ spout (i.e., spout that was never associated with ethanol) in A) non-heavy and B) heavy drinkers before (Pre-abs) and during abstinence. C) Water intake in control subjects on the ‘ethanol’ spout (i.e., spout associated with the schedule induction procedure) before and during abstinence. D) Water intake in control subjects on the ‘water’ spout (i.e., spout that was not associated with the schedule induction procedure) before and during abstinence. Each data point represents a 28-day mean for each monkey and the bars represent a group mean ± SD. Asterisks represent significant changes from pre-abstinence (Pre-abs), *p < 0.05; **p < 0.01. (PDF 51 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daicia C. Allen
    • 1
  • Steven W. Gonzales
    • 2
  • Kathleen A. Grant
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Behavioral NeuroscienceOregon Health & Science UniversityPortlandUSA
  2. 2.Division of Neuroscience, Oregon National Primate Research CenterOregon Health & Science UniversityBeavertonUSA

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