Operant self-administration methods are commonly used to study the behavioral and pharmacological effects of many drugs of abuse, including ethanol. However, ethanol is typically self-administered orally, rather than intravenously like many other drugs of abuse. The pharmacokinetics of orally administered drugs are more complex than intravenously administered drugs. Because understanding the relationship between the pharmacological and behavioral effects of ethanol requires knowledge of the time course of ethanol reaching the brain during and after drinking, we use in vivo microdialysis and gas chromatography with flame ionization detection to monitor brain dialysate ethanol concentrations over time. Combined microdialysis-behavioral experiments involve the use of several techniques. In this article, stereotaxic surgery, behavioral training and microdialysis, which can be adapted to test a multitude of self-administration and neurochemical centered hypotheses, are included only to illustrate how they relate to the subsequent phases of sample collection and dialysate ethanol analysis. Dialysate ethanol concentration analysis via gas chromatography with flame-ionization detection, which is specific to ethanol studies, is described in detail. Data produced by these methods reveal the pattern of ethanol reaching the brain during the self-administration procedure, and when paired with neurochemical analysis of the same dialysate samples, allows conclusions to be made regarding the pharmacological and behavioral effects of ethanol.
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