Reversal of morphine analgesic tolerance by ethanol in the mouse

L.C. Hull, B.H. Gabra, C.P. Bailey, G. Henderson, W.L. Dewey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (SciVal)


The chronic use of opioids in humans, accompanied by the development of tolerance, is a dangerous phenomenon in its own right. However, chronic opioid use is often made more dangerous by the coconsumption of other substances. It has been observed that the blood level of opioids in postmortem analyses of addicts, who consumed ethanol along with the opioid, was much less than that observed in individuals who died from opioids alone. This relationship between ethanol and opioids led us to investigate the hypothesis that ethanol alters tolerance to opioids. In the present study, we report that ethanol significantly and dose-dependently reduced the antinociceptive tolerance produced by morphine and the cross-tolerance between [D-Ala2,N-Me-Phe4,Gly5-ol]-enkephalin (DAMGO) and morphine in the mouse tail-flick test. The reversal of morphine tolerance was partially blocked by both the gamma receptor blocker bicuculline and by the γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA)B receptor blocker phaclofen and the administration of both inhibitors completely reversed the effects of ethanol on morphine tolerance. Diazepam, like ethanol, decreased morphine tolerance. However, this inhibition was reversed by the GABAA antagonist bicuculline but not by the GABAB antagonist phaclofen. These findings have important implications for individuals who abuse opioids and ethanol as well as suggest a mechanism to reduce the amount of opioid needed in chronic pain treatment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)512-519
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics
Issue number3
Early online date25 Mar 2013
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2013


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