Ovarian Hormones Contribute to High Levels of Binge-Like Drinking by Female Mice

Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2018 Feb;42(2):286-294. doi: 10.1111/acer.13571. Epub 2018 Jan 8.


Background: Recently, the incidence of binge drinking by women has increased. Binge drinking is detrimental to women's health, yet the biological mechanisms that promote excessive drinking by women are not well understood. One method of assessing binge-like ethanol (EtOH) consumption in mice is the drinking in the dark (DID) test, in which mice drink sufficient EtOH to achieve intoxication. In this study, we directly compared male, female, and ovariectomized (OVX) mice for DID and tested whether 17β-estradiol (E2) contributes to DID. We also measured whether DID varies throughout the estrous cycle and whether repeated intermittent DID impacts the estrous cycle.

Methods: Male, female, and OVX C57BL/6J mice were tested for DID for 2 hours per day on days 1 to 3 and for 4 hours on day 4 using a single bottle containing 20% EtOH. To measure the effects of E2 on DID, OVX mice were treated with estradiol benzoate (EB) or vehicle daily starting 2 weeks prior to the drinking test and throughout the DID procedure. In a separate group of experiments, EtOH consumption and estrous cycle phase were measured in freely cycling mice that were drinking EtOH or water 5 days per week for 2 or 6 weeks.

Results: Female mice consumed more EtOH than male and OVX mice. Treatment with EB increased EtOH consumption by OVX mice compared with vehicle-treated controls. However, EtOH intake did not vary across the estrous cycle, nor did long-term DID alter the estrous cycle.

Conclusions: These results demonstrate that ovarian hormones, specifically E2, contribute to increased EtOH consumption by female mice in the DID test. Although ovarian hormones contribute to this behavior, EtOH consumption is not affected by estrous cycle phase in freely cycling mice. This study provides a framework for understanding the factors that contribute to binge drinking in females.

Keywords: Alcohol; Binge Drinking; Estrogen; Female; Sex Differences.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Binge Drinking / metabolism*
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / administration & dosage*
  • Estradiol / analogs & derivatives
  • Estradiol / metabolism*
  • Estradiol / pharmacology
  • Estrogens / pharmacology
  • Estrous Cycle / metabolism
  • Ethanol / administration & dosage*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Ovariectomy


  • Central Nervous System Depressants
  • Estrogens
  • estradiol 3-benzoate
  • Ethanol
  • Estradiol