Alcohol use is common in adolescence, with a large portion of intake occurring during episodes of binging. This pattern of alcohol consumption coincides with a critical period for neurocognitive development and may impact decision-making and reward processing. Prior studies have demonstrated alterations in adult decision-making following adolescent usage, but it remains to be seen if these alterations exist in adolescence, or are latent until adulthood. Here, using a translational model of voluntary binge alcohol consumption in adolescents, we assess the impact of alcohol intake on risk preference and behavioral flexibility during adolescence. During adolescence (postnatal day 30-50), rats were given 1-hour access to either a 10% alcohol gelatin mixture (EtOH) or a calorie equivalent gelatin (Control) at the onset of the dark cycle. EtOH consuming rats were classified as either High or Low consumers based on intake levels. Adolescent rats underwent behavioral testing once a day, with one group performing a risk preference task, and a second group performing a reversal-learning task during the 20-day period of gelatin access. EtOH-High rats showed increases in risk preference compared to Control rats, but not EtOH-Low animals. However, adolescent rats did a poor job of matching their behavior to optimize outcomes, suggesting that adolescents may adopt a response bias. In addition, adolescent ethanol exposure did not affect the animals' ability to flexibly adapt behavior to changing reward contingencies during reversal learning. These data support the view that adolescent alcohol consumption can have short-term detrimental effects on risk-taking when examined during adolescence, which does not seem to be attributable to an inability to flexibly encode reward contingencies on behavioral responses.
McMurray, M. S., Amodeo, L. R., & Roitman, J. D. (2014). Effects of voluntary alcohol intake on risk preference and behavioral flexibility during rat adolescence. PLoS ONE, 9(7). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0100697