Ethanol intake under social circumstances or alone in sprague-dawley rats: impact of age, sex, social activity, and social anxiety-like behavior

Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2015 Jan;39(1):117-25. doi: 10.1111/acer.12604.


Background: In human adolescents, heavy drinking is often predicted by high sociability in males and high social anxiety in females. This study assessed the impact of baseline levels of social activity and social anxiety-like behavior in group-housed adolescent and adult male and female Sprague-Dawley rats on ethanol (EtOH) intake when drinking alone or in a social group.

Methods: Social activity and anxiety-like behavior initially were assessed in a modified social interaction test, followed by 6 drinking sessions that occurred every other day in animals given ad libitum food and water. Sessions consisted of 30-minute access to 10% EtOH in a "supersac" (3% sucrose + 0.1% saccharin) solution given alone as well as in groups of 5 same-sex littermates, with order of the alternating session types counterbalanced across animals.

Results: Adolescent males and adults of both sexes overall consumed more EtOH under social than alone circumstances, whereas adolescent females ingested more EtOH when alone. Highly socially active adolescent males demonstrated elevated levels of EtOH intake relative to their low and medium socially active counterparts when drinking in groups, but not when tested alone. Adolescent females with high levels of social anxiety-like behavior demonstrated the highest EtOH intake under social, but not alone circumstances. Among adults, baseline levels of social anxiety-like behavior did not contribute to individual differences in EtOH intake in either sex.

Conclusions: The results clearly demonstrate that in adolescent rats, but not their adult counterparts, responsiveness to a social peer predicts EtOH intake in a social setting-circumstances under which drinking typically occurs in human adolescents. High levels of social activity in males and high levels of social anxiety-like behavior in females were associated with elevated social drinking, suggesting that males ingest EtOH for its socially enhancing properties, whereas females ingest EtOH for its socially anxiolytic effects.

Keywords: Adolescence; Ethanol Intake; Sex Differences; Social Activity and Social Anxiety-Like Behavior; Social Drinking Paradigm.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aging / psychology*
  • Alcohol Drinking / blood
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology*
  • Animals
  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Female
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Rats
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Social Behavior*