The co-occurrence of chronic pain and alcohol use disorders (AUDs) involves complex interactions between genetic and neurophysiological aspects, and the research has reported mixed findings when they both co-occur. There is also an indication of a gender-dependent effect; males are more likely to use alcohol to cope with chronic pain problems than females. Recently, a new conceptualization has emerged, proposing that the negative affective component of pain drives and maintains alcohol-related behaviors. We studied in a longitudinal fashion alterations in alcohol drinking patterns and pain thresholds in a mouse model of chronic neuropathic pain in a sex-dependent manner. Following partial denervation (spared nerve injury [SNI]), stimulus-evoked pain responses were measured before chronic alcohol consumption, during drinking, during a deprivation phase, and following an episode of excessive drinking. During the course of alcohol drinking, we observed pronounced sex differences in pain thresholds. Male mice showed a strong increase in pain thresholds, suggesting an analgesic effect induced by alcohol over time, an effect that was not observed in female mice. SNI mice did not differ from sham-operated controls in baseline alcohol consumption. However, following a deprivation phase and the reintroduction of ethanol, male SNI mice but not female mice showed more pronounced excessive drinking than controls. Finally, we observed decreased central ethanol sensitivity in male SNI mice but not in females. Together with our finding, that ethanol is able to decrease a pain-induced negative affective memory we come to following conclusion. We propose that a lower sensitivity to the intoxicating effects of alcohol together with the ability of alcohol to reduce the negative affective component of pain may explain the higher co-occurrence of AUD in male chronic pain patients.
Keywords: alcohol drinking; chronic pain; intoxication; negative affect; pain thresholds; relapse; sex-specific alcohol effects.
© 2019 Society for the Study of Addiction.