Higher rate alternative non-drug reinforcement produces faster suppression of cocaine seeking but more resurgence when removed

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Behavioural Brain Research





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Relapse following removal of an alternative source of reinforcement introduced during extinction of a target behavior is called resurgence. This form of relapse may be related to relapse of drug taking following loss of alternative non-drug reinforcement in human populations. Laboratory investigations of factors mediating resurgence with food-maintained behavior suggest higher rates of alternative reinforcement produce faster suppression of target behavior but paradoxically generate more relapse when alternative reinforcement is discontinued. At present, it is unknown if a similar effect occurs when target behavior is maintained by drug reinforcement and the alternative is a non-drug reinforcer. In the present experiment three groups of rats were trained to lever press for infusions of cocaine during baseline. Next, during treatment, cocaine reinforcement was suspended and an alternative response was reinforced with either high-rate, low-rate, or no alternative food reinforcement. Finally, all reinforcement was suspended to test for relapse of cocaine seeking. Higher rate alternative reinforcement produced faster elimination of cocaine seeking than lower rates or extinction alone, but when treatment was suspended resurgence of cocaine seeking occurred following only high-rate alternative reinforcement. Thus, although higher rate alternative reinforcement appears to more effectively suppress drug seeking, should it become unavailable, it can have the unfortunate effect of increasing relapse.