Context is a trigger for relapse to alcohol

Behav Brain Res. 2006 Feb 15;167(1):150-5. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2005.09.007. Epub 2005 Oct 26.


The environment in which alcohol consumption occurs may trigger later relapse in alcohol abusers. In this study, we tested whether an alcohol-associated environment would induce alcohol-seeking behavior. Male rats were trained to lever press for oral alcohol reinforcement in a distinctive context. Responding was then extinguished in a context with different olfactory, visual and tactile properties. Placement of the rats back into the original context in which they self-administered alcohol induced, in the absence of alcohol availability, a significant increase in lever press responding on the alcohol lever as compared to extinction levels of responding. The ability of the alcohol context to support alcohol-seeking behavior was maintained over 3 weeks, with no significant diminution. A second group of rats was trained to lever press for sucrose reinforcement; this group also demonstrated context-dependent reinstatement, although the degree of reinstatement decreased over repeated tests, returning to extinction values after 3 weeks. These findings indicate that contextual conditioning has a long-term impact on ethanol-seeking behavior after ethanol withdrawal. This animal model may be useful to study the neural mechanisms underlying relapse induced by ethanol-associated contexts in humans.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology*
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / administration & dosage*
  • Conditioning, Classical / drug effects*
  • Conditioning, Classical / physiology
  • Ethanol / administration & dosage*
  • Exploratory Behavior / drug effects
  • Extinction, Psychological / drug effects
  • Male
  • Rats
  • Reinforcement, Psychology*
  • Self Administration
  • Sucrose / administration & dosage
  • Sweetening Agents / administration & dosage


  • Central Nervous System Depressants
  • Sweetening Agents
  • Ethanol
  • Sucrose