Clinical perspectives for the study of craving and relapse in animal models
Several major clinical models of alcoholism in which craving plays a role are summarized and key questions are raised regarding the course of craving in the emergence of alcoholism, how it varies in different stages of the disorder (e.g. active alcoholic, withdrawal, protracted abstinence) and what craving may contribute to major signs and symptoms of alcoholism. Turning to animal models, a plea is made for development of a standardized definition of human craving that can be represented and operationalized in animal models. Until there is scientific consensus on such a definition, four ways are elucidated in which animal model research can contribute to advances in our knowledge of human craving and the role it plays in addictive behavior: (1) engaging both basic and clinical researchers to identify parallel constructs of craving and predictors of craving for adoption in comparative human and animal model studies; (2) conducting exploratory research on craving in animal models using relapse to drinking as the dependent measure; (3) identifying mechanisms that underlie clinical signs and symptoms of alcoholism in animal models; and (4) identifying genetic models in basic research that account for variations in response to alcohol that may also occur in humans. This latter point is made in a discussion of the genetic contribution to voluntary alcohol consumption, the alcohol deprivation effect, tolerance and dependence, as illustrated by differences between alcohol-preferring (P) rats and -nonpreferring (NP) rats. The review concludes with four questions and issues that need to be among those that guide future research on craving.
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