Rationale: Most smokers report smoking has an anxiolytic effect, which may contribute to nicotine dependence.
Objective: To examine effects in the social interaction test (SI) of anxiety after 4 weeks' self-administered nicotine (15 infusions of 0.03 mg/kg, totalling 0.45 mg/kg per day), and after 24 and 72 h of withdrawal. The effect of exposure to the operant chamber on withdrawal responses was also examined.
Methods: Animals were trained to self-administer saline or nicotine and after 4 weeks they were tested in SI after their daily self-administration session. Animals were retested after 24 and 72 h withdrawal, when they were either taken directly from the home cage or were tested 5 min after a 30-min exposure to the operant chamber.
Results: Compared with the saline control group, the animals that had been self-administering nicotine for 4 weeks showed decreased social interaction with no decrease in locomotor activity, indicating a significant anxiogenic effect of the nicotine infusions. There was no change in social interaction after 24 and 72 h withdrawal from chronic nicotine, regardless of whether or not the rats were exposed to the operant chamber just prior to being tested.
Conclusions: Nicotine self-administration is not maintained because of its anxiolytic effect, but despite, or because of, its anxiogenic effect. There was no evidence of an anxiogenic response after either 24 or 72 h of withdrawal and thus increased anxiety on withdrawal from nicotine does not seem to contribute to nicotine self-administration.