Operant Social Reward Decreases Incubation of Heroin Craving in Male and Female Rats

Biol Psychiatry. 2019 Dec 1;86(11):848-856. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2019.05.018. Epub 2019 May 30.


Background: We recently reported that operant social choice-induced voluntary abstinence prevents incubation of methamphetamine craving. Here, we determined whether social choice-induced voluntary abstinence would prevent incubation of heroin craving. We also introduce a fully automatic social reward self-administration model that eliminates the intense workload and rat-human interaction of the original semiautomatic model.

Methods: In experiment 1, we trained male and female rats for social self-administration (6 days) and then for heroin self-administration (12 days). Next, we assessed relapse to heroin seeking after 1 and 15 abstinence days. Between tests, the rats underwent either forced or social choice-induced abstinence. In experiment 2, we developed a fully automatic social self-administration procedure by introducing a screen between the self-administration chamber and the social-peer chamber; the screen allows physical contact but prevents rats from crossing chambers. Next, we compared incubation of craving in rats with a history of standard (no-screen) or automatic (screen) social self-administration and social choice-induced abstinence.

Results: The time-dependent increase in heroin seeking after cessation of drug self-administration (incubation of craving) was lower after social choice-induced abstinence than after forced abstinence. There were no differences in social self-administration, social choice-induced abstinence, and incubation of craving in rats trained in the standard semiautomatic procedure versus the novel fully automatic procedure.

Conclusions: Our study demonstrates the protective effect of rewarding social interaction on heroin self-administration and incubation of heroin craving and introduces a fully automatic social self-administration and choice procedure to investigate the role of volitional social interaction in drug addiction and other psychiatric disorders.

Keywords: Addiction; Animal models; Choice; Incubation; Motivation; Operant; Opioid; Rats; Reward; Self-administration; Social; Voluntary abstinence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Choice Behavior
  • Craving / drug effects*
  • Drug-Seeking Behavior*
  • Extinction, Psychological / drug effects
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Heroin / administration & dosage*
  • Male
  • Methamphetamine / administration & dosage*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Reward*
  • Self Administration
  • Social Behavior*


  • Methamphetamine
  • Heroin