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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1991 Aug 15;88(16):7261-5.

Nonhuman primate model of alcohol abuse: effects of early experience, personality, and stress on alcohol consumption.

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  • 1Laboratories of Clinical Studies, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Bethesda, MD 20892.


Twenty-two 50-month-old rhesus monkeys were provided concurrent free access to an aspartame-sweetened 7% ethanol solution and an aspartame-sweetened vehicle before, during, and after social separation. Subjects had been reared for their first 6 months of life either without access to adults but with constant access to age mates (peer reared), a condition producing reduced exploration and increased fear-related behaviors, or as controls with their mothers; thereafter, all subjects received identical treatment. During home-cage periods, for 1 hr each day, 4 days a week, when the ethanol solution and vehicle were freely available, peer-reared subjects consumed significantly more alcohol than mother-reared subjects. When stress was increased via social separation, mother-reared animals increased their alcohol consumption to a level nearly as high as that of peer-reared monkeys. Average individual differences in alcohol consumption were markedly stable over time. In addition, there were strong positive correlations between alcohol consumption and distress behaviors. Biological indices of increased stress, such as plasma cortisol and corticotropin, were higher in peer-reared subjects. Within the peer- and mother-reared groups, these indices were positively correlated with alcohol consumption. The results suggest that early rearing experiences that predispose monkeys to increased fear-related behaviors produce excessive alcohol consumption under normal living conditions. Furthermore, a major challenge such as social separation increases alcohol consumption to levels producing intoxication even in monkeys not particularly vulnerable to stress.

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