Risk-preferring rats make worse decisions and show increased incubation of craving after cocaine self-administration

Jacqueline Marie N. Ferland, Catharine A. Winstanley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


Maladaptive decision-making may play an integral role in the development and maintenance of an addiction. Substance-dependent individuals make riskier choices on the Iowa Gambling Task, and these deficits persist during withdrawal and are predictive of relapse. However, it is unclear from clinical studies whether this cognitive impairment is a cause or consequence of drug use. We trained male Long-Evans rats on the rat Gambling Task, a rodent analogue of the Iowa Gambling Task, to determine how choice preference influenced, and was influenced by, cocaine self-administration, withdrawal and incubation of craving. Rats that exhibited a preference for the risky, disadvantageous options at baseline were uniquely and adversely affected by cocaine self-administration. Risky choice was exacerbated in these rats when decision-making was assessed during the same diurnal period as cocaine self-administration, whereas the choice pattern of optimal decision-makers was unaffected. This decision-making deficit was maintained during 30 days of withdrawal and correlated with greater cue-induced incubation of craving. Risk-preferring rats also made more drug-seeking responses during cocaine self-administration. These data demonstrate that poor decision-making prior to contact with addictive drugs is associated with a pro-addictive behavioural phenotype, characterized by further increased risky choice and heightened responding for drug both during cocaine self-administration and withdrawal. Such findings indicate that the elevated risky decision-making observed in substance-dependent populations is not merely circumstantial, but makes an important contribution to addiction vulnerability and severity that can now be effectively modelled in laboratory rats.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)991-1001
Number of pages11
JournalAddiction Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Addiction
  • decision-making
  • impulsivity
  • individual differences
  • rat gambling task
  • withdrawal


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