Sugar-dependent rats show enhanced intake of unsweetened ethanol

Nicole M. Avena, Carmen A. Carrillo, Lance Needham, Sarah F. Leibowitz, Bartley G. Hoebel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

117 Scopus citations


Rats show signs of dependence on sugar when it is available intermittently, including bingeing, withdrawal, and cross-sensitization with amphetamine. In the current study, we sought to determine whether sugar-dependent rats would show increased intake of unsweetened ethanol and, conversely, whether intermittent access to ethanol would augment sugar consumption. In Experiment 1, with intermittent versus ad libitum access to ethanol, Sprague-Dawley rats were given escalating concentrations of ethanol (1%, 2%, 4%, 7%, and 9%) over the course of 20 days. Rats in the intermittent ethanol access group, with 12-h daily access, consumed more 4%, 7%, and 9% ethanol during the first hour of access, and more 9% ethanol daily, than did rats in the ad libitum ethanol access group. In Experiment 2, with ethanol as a gateway to sugar intake, the rats from Experiment 1 were switched to 10% sucrose with 12-h daily access for 1 week. Rats in the intermittent ethanol access group consumed significantly more sugar than was consumed by rats in a control group with no prior ethanol experience. In Experiment 3, with sugar as a gateway to ethanol to determine whether sugar dependence leads to increased ethanol intake, four groups were maintained for 21 days according to the following designations: intermittent access to sugar and chow, ad libitum access to sugar and chow, intermittent access to chow, or ad libitum access to chow. Four days later, all groups were switched to intermittent ethanol access, as described in Experiment 1. The group with intermittent access to sugar and chow consumed the most 9% ethanol, supporting the suggestion that sugar dependence alters a rat's proclivity to drink ethanol. These results may relate to the co-morbidity between binge-eating disorders and alcohol intake and the tendency of people abstaining from alcohol to consume excessive amounts of sugar. In conclusion, bingeing on either ethanol or sugar fosters intake of the other.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)203-209
Number of pages7
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Alcohol
  • Binge-eating
  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Cross-sensitization
  • Sucrose


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