Getting Drunk: What ‘Adolescent’ Rats And Humans Have In Common

It seems, according to a study conducted by Maldonado et al. (2008), that, rather like male, adolescent humans, male adolescent rats choose to consume more alcohol when they observe and are placed in the company of their drunken,’mates.’

The study found that male adolescent rats who socially interacted with FAMILIAR, intoxicated rats drank significantly more alcohol (ethanol) when given voluntary access to it than male adolescent rats who had socially interacted with a familiar, sober, adolescent rat when also given voluntary access to alcohol (ethanol).

However, it was also found that male, adolescent rats do NOT choose to drink more alcohol (ethanol) when they socially interact for thirty minutes with UNFAMILIAR, intoxicated, male, adolescent rats.

Again, there seems to be a parallel with adolescent, male humans here, who tend to be more influenced by observing the behavior of those familiar to them (i.e. their friends) than by observing the behavior of those unfamiliar to them (i.e. strangers).

In the case of female, adolescent rats, it was found that they were induced to consume more alcohol (ethanol) after socially interacting with other female, adolescent, intoxicated rats, regardless of whether they were familiar to them or not.

In short, male adolescent rats were induced to drink more alcohol when exposed to drunken, adolescent, male ‘friends’ but not strangers, whereas female, adolescent rats were induced to drink more alcohol when exposed to BOTH female, adolescent friends, AND strangers.

Other research has found that ‘adolescent’ mice (the period of ‘adolescence’ in mice lasts about one month) are more likely to take risks and seek out novel environments than adult mice. Research by Steinberg et al. (2014) also produced evidence supporting Maldonado et al’s 2008 findings (see above), namely that adolescent mice drink more alcohol when in the company of other adolescent mice and that this was not the case for adult mice.

In the light of the above and similar research, it seems that what we might term as ”typical adolescent behavior (risk-taking, succumbing to peer pressure, etc) is not unique to human beings but can be seen in other species too.

Extrapolating from the above and other rodent studies, it can be inferred that adolescent, reward-seeking behavior may, as a result of evolutionary processes, be hardwired into the brain in a way that leads adolescents to become more sensitive to potential rewards when in the company of familiar peers.

Finally, in relation to the above, according to Romer (2017) there now exists strong evidence, from a variety of studies, that risk-taking and novelty-seeking behavior in adolescence is not due to brain deficits (e.g. underdevelopment of the prefrontal cortex as proposed by other extant theories) but is an evolutionarily adaptive behavior allowing the person (or other species member) to learn more widely about the world and thus be better prepared for coping with life in adulthood.


Antoniette M Maldonado, Lauren M Finkbeiner, Cheryl L Kirstein. Social interaction and partner familiarity differentially alter voluntary ethanol intake in adolescent male and female rats Alcohol 42 (8), 641-648, 2008

Albert A, Steinberg L. Peer influences on adolescent risk behavior. In: Bardo M, Fishbein D, Milich R, editors. Inhibitory control and drug abuse prevention: From research to translation. Part 3. New York: Springer; 2011. pp. 211–226. 

Daniel Romer, Valerie F. Reyna, Theodore D. Satterthwaite. Beyond stereotypes of adolescent risk-taking: Placing the adolescent brain in a developmental context. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 2017; 27: 19 DOI: 10.1016/j.dcn.2017.07.007


David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE). is reader-supported. When you buy through links on this site, I may earn an affiliate commission.