The effects of age at the onset of drinking to intoxication and chronic ethanol self-administration in male rhesus macaques

Christa M. Helms, Andrew Rau, Jessica Shaw, Cara Stull, Steven W. Gonzales, Kathleen A. Grant

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Rationale: Consumption of alcohol begins during late adolescence in a majority of humans, and the greatest drinking occurs at 18-25 years then decreases with age. Objectives: The present study measured the differences in ethanol intake in relation to age at the onset of ethanol access among nonhuman primates to control for self-selection in humans and isolate age effects on heavy drinking. Methods: Male rhesus macaques were assigned first access to ethanol during late adolescence (n=8), young adulthood (n=8), or early middle age (n=11). The monkeys were induced to drink ethanol (4 %w/v in water) in increasing doses (water then 0.5, 1.0, 1.5 g/kg ethanol) using a fixed-time (FT) 300-s schedule of food delivery, followed by 22 h/day concurrent access to ethanol and water for 12 months. Age-matched controls consumed isocaloric maltose-dextrin solution yoked to the late adolescents expected to be rapidly maturing (n=4). Results: Young adult monkeys had the greatest daily ethanol intake and blood-ethanol concentration (BEC). Only late adolescents escalated their intake (ethanol, not water) during the second compared to the first 6 months of access. On average, plasma testosterone level was consistent with age differences in maturation and tended to increase throughout the experiment more for control than ethanol-drinking adolescent monkeys. Conclusions: Young adulthood in nonhuman primates strongly disposes toward heavy drinking, which is independent of sociocultural factors present in humans. Ethanol drinking to intoxication during the critical period of late adolescence is associated with escalation to heavy drinking.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1853-1861
Number of pages9
Issue number8
StatePublished - Apr 2014


  • Age at onset
  • Blood-ethanol concentration
  • Ethanol self-administration
  • Rhesus monkeys
  • Schedule-induced polydipsia
  • Testosterone


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