Animal Models for Screening Drugs to Decrease Alcohol Consumption

  • J. D. Sinclair
Conference paper


Improved methods for treating alcoholism are greatly needed, and the use of pharmacological agents holds great promise. Development was previously hindered by the lack of an accepted animal model. Great emphasis has been placed upon designated criteria for an animal model of alcoholism, but such face validity is unimportant for finding better treatments. What really is needed is predictive validity—the ability to predict which drugs will reduce alcohol drinking in alcoholics. The simple model of rats voluntarily selecting unflavored ethanol has been shown to possess good predictive validity (Sinclair, 1987) and is currently being used for screening drugs for potential usefulness in alcoholism treatment.

The next step should be development of special animal models for screening drugs that act on specific components of alcohol drinking: e.g., blocking the deprivation-induced increase in craving or the accompanying arousal, correcting underlying disorders promoting drinking in some individuals, suppressing stimuli triggering drinking (e.g., withdrawal sensations or stimuli arising from the first drink after abstinence), satisfying the alcohol craving or blocking tolerance to satiety signals from alcohol. Particularly promising are drugs that block alcohol reinforcement and thus could be used to extinguish the alcohol-drinking response.

There is increasing evidence that pharmacological agents alter alcohol drinking in laboratory animals and in humans, and that pharmacological suppression of alcohol intake represents a feasible approach for improved treatment of alcoholism (Sinclair, 1987). The search for drugs that are useful against alcoholism must eventually proceed to clinical trials. Before that, however, a method is needed for screening the vast multitude of possibly beneficial drugs. This screening, by necessity, requires a good animal model.


Alcohol Drinking Alcohol Craving Deprivation Effect Ethanol Preference Gustatory Factor 
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© Springer-Verlag New York, Inc. 1992

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  • J. D. Sinclair

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