Differential vulnerability to the punishment of cocaine related behaviours: effects of locus of punishment, cocaine taking history and alternative reinforcer availability

Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2015 Jan;232(1):125-34. doi: 10.1007/s00213-014-3648-5. Epub 2014 Jun 21.


Background: The availability of alternative reinforcement has been shown to reduce drug use, but it remains unclear whether it facilitates a reduction or cessation of drug seeking or taking.

Objectives: We compared the effects of punishment of cocaine seeking or taking behaviour after brief or extended cocaine-taking histories when behavioural reallocation was facilitated or not by making available an alternative ingestive reinforcer (sucrose).

Methods: In the first experiment, punishment of either seeking or taking responses was introduced immediately after training on the seeking-taking chained schedule. In the second experiment, punishment of cocaine seeking was introduced after 12 additional days of either 1 or 6 h daily access to cocaine self-administration. In both experiments, beginning 1 week before the introduction of punishment, a subset of rats had concurrent nose poke access to sucrose while seeking or taking cocaine.

Results: The presence of an alternative source of reinforcement markedly facilitated behavioural reallocation from punished cocaine taking after acquisition. It also facilitated punishment-induced suppression of cocaine seeking after an extensive cocaine self-administration history likely by prompting goal-directed motivational control over drug use. However, a significant proportion of rats were deemed compulsive-maintaining drug use after an extensive cocaine history despite the presence of abstinence-promoting positive and negative incentives.

Conclusion: Making available an alternative reinforcer facilitates disengagement from punished cocaine use through at least two different processes but remains ineffective in a subpopulation of vulnerable animals, which continued to seek cocaine despite the aversive consequence of punishment and the presence of the alternative positive reinforcer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cocaine / administration & dosage*
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / psychology
  • Conditioning, Operant / drug effects*
  • Conditioning, Operant / physiology
  • Drug-Seeking Behavior / drug effects*
  • Drug-Seeking Behavior / physiology
  • Male
  • Motivation / drug effects
  • Motivation / physiology
  • Punishment / psychology*
  • Rats
  • Reinforcement, Psychology*
  • Self Administration
  • Sucrose / administration & dosage


  • Sucrose
  • Cocaine