Addiction is a devastating disorder that affects over 20 million Americans. This disorder has recently been conceptualized as a pattern of maladaptive choice of drug rewards over non-drug alternative rewards. The factors that cause individuals to make such seemingly poor choices are not well understood. The goal of the research proposed here is to fill this critical gap in knowledge, in an effort to potentially help solve the problem of addiction. This will be accomplished by applying recent advances in the field of behavioral economics to an increasingly used choice-based animal model of addiction.
Aim 1 is to investigate how the essential values of drugs (cocaine or heroin) and non-drug rewards (food or saccharin) determine the behavior of rats choosing between these rewards.
Aim 2 is to investigate how the availability of each type of reward outside of the choice situation alters the essential values of drug and non-drug rewards and affects choice between them.
Aim 3 is to determine how the frequency of choice opportunity influences the likelihood of the drug reward being chosen over the non-drug reward in different contexts of overall reward availability. Special focus will be placed throughout the proposed research on those situations hypothesized to promote excessive and maladaptive choice of the drug reward. Answering these questions will provide important information about the major factors that control the choice to use drugs, even when such drug use is detrimental to the long- term interests of the user. This information will be significant for the development of new strategies designed to prevent and treat drug addiction, a major public health problem.

Public Health Relevance

This research will increase understanding of factors that contribute to the maladaptive choice of drugs over non-drug rewards that is a hallmark of addiction, a major public health problem. The results of this research could be used to inform the development of novel and effective drug abuse treatment and prevention strategies.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
Research Project (R01)
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Biobehavioral Regulation, Learning and Ethology Study Section (BRLE)
Program Officer
Grant, Steven J
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American University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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Schwartz, Lindsay P; Kearns, David N; Silberberg, Alan (2018) The effect of nicotine pre-exposure on demand for cocaine and sucrose in male rats. Behav Pharmacol 29:316-326
Kearns, David N; Kim, Jung S; Tunstall, Brendan J et al. (2017) Essential values of cocaine and non-drug alternatives predict the choice between them. Addict Biol 22:1501-1514
Schwartz, Lindsay P; Kim, Jung S; Silberberg, Alan et al. (2017) Heroin and saccharin demand and preference in rats. Drug Alcohol Depend 178:87-93
Kearns, David N; Silberberg, Alan (2016) Dose and elasticity of demand for self-administered cocaine in rats. Behav Pharmacol 27:289-92