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Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2014 Feb;38(2):376-83. doi: 10.1111/acer.12233. Epub 2013 Aug 19.

The effects of varenicline on alcohol seeking and self-administration in baboons.

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Division of Behavioral Biology, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland.



Nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) may play a critical role in alcohol reinforcement and consumption. The effects of varenicline, an nAChR partial agonist, on alcohol seeking and self-administration responses were evaluated in 2 groups of baboons trained under a 3-component chained schedule of reinforcement (CSR).


Alcohol (4% w/v; n = 4; alcohol group) or a preferred nonalcoholic beverage (n = 4; control group) was available for self-administration only in component 3 of the CSR. Responses in component 2, required to gain access to alcohol, provided indices of seeking behavior. Varenicline (0.032 to 0.32 mg/kg; 0.32 mg/kg twice daily [BID]) and vehicle were administered before CSR sessions subchronically (5 consecutive days). Higher doses (0.56, 1.0 mg/kg) were attempted, but discontinued due to adverse effects.


Subchronic varenicline administration significantly (p < 0.05) decreased the seeking response rate and increased the time to complete the response requirement to gain access to the daily supply of alcohol at the higher doses (0.32 mg/kg, 0.32 mg/kg BID dosing) in the alcohol group compared with the control group. Mean number of drinks was significantly decreased (p < 0.05), but effects did not differ between groups. The pattern of drinking was characterized by a high rate during an initial bout. Number of drinks during and duration of the initial bout were significantly decreased in the alcohol group, compared with the control group, at 0.32 mg/kg (p < 0.05).


Varenicline may be clinically useful for reducing alcohol-seeking behaviors prior to alcohol exposure. Given the modest effects on drinking itself, varenicline may be better suited as a treatment in combination with a pharmacotherapy that significantly reduces alcohol consumption.


Craving; Cues; Drinking; Ethanol; Self-Administration

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