Lower impulse control is a known risk factor for drug abuse vulnerability. Chronic experience with illicit drugs is suggested to enhance impulsivity and thereby perpetuate addiction. However, the nature of this relationship (directionality, causality) with regard to alcohol use disorder is unclear. The present study tested the hypothesis that higher impulsivity is observed during chronic intermittent ethanol vapor inhalation (CIE; a model of ethanol dependence) and subsequent abstinence from CIE in adult Wistar rats. Impulsivity was tested using a differential reinforcement of low rates 15 s (DRL15) schedule using either nondrug reward (palatable modified sucrose pellets) or sweetened ethanol. A decrease in the efficiency of earning reinforcers (expressed as % reinforcers/responses) is indicative of a decrease in response inhibition or an increase in impulsivity. The efficiency of reinforcement and amount of reinforcers earned were unaltered in CIE and control animals when the reinforcer was sucrose. When the reinforcer was sweetened ethanol, the efficiency of reinforcement increased in CIE rats compared with controls only during protracted abstinence. Responding for sweetened ethanol under a progressive-ratio schedule was more rapid in CIE rats during protracted abstinence. Contrary to the initial hypothesis, impulsivity did not increase in rats with a history of CIE; instead, it decreased when ethanol was used as the reinforcer. Furthermore, although the efficiency of ethanol reinforcement did not differ between CIE and control animals during CIE, CIE rats escalated the amount of sweetened ethanol consumed, suggesting that behavioral adaptations that are induced by CIE in rats that are tested under a DRL15 schedule appear to be targeted toward the maximization of ethanol intake and thus may contribute to escalation and relapse.
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