Mixing alcohol and energy drinks may have the same effect on the brain as cocaine. New research from Purdue University in Indiana suggests mixing alcohol with highly-caffeinated energy drinks could significantly change the brain activity of a teenager, and the effect lasts well into adulthood.
While energy drinks have become wildly popular in the last decade, not much research has been done to determine the health consequences of consuming the beverages. Even less is known about how mixing alcohol and energy drinks could affect our bodies.
Using adolescent mice, the scientists examined how their brain chemistry changed after being fed a concoction of alcohol and an energy drink. After repeated doses, the mice became more active and acted the same as mice on a cocaine high. During the experiment, the researchers began to notice a surge in levels of a protein known as FosB, an indication of long-term changes in neurochemistry. These same increased levels have also been detected after continued use of cocaine and morphine.
“It seems the two substances (high energy drinks and alcohol) together push them over a limit that causes changes in their behavior and changes the neurochemistry in their brains,” said lead researcher Dr. Richard van Rijn. “We’re clearly seeing effects of the combined drinks that we would not see if drinking one or the other.”
The study also showed the mice that drank the alcohol and energy drink mixture had built a resistance to cocaine as they matured. Meridith Robins, another researcher on the team, discovered the mice given alcohol and energy drinks as adolescents became less sensitive to the pleasurable effects of cocaine when they got older. While this may sound like a good thing, it only means more cocaine would be needed in order to get the same drug euphoria, thus creating an even greater possibility of becoming a cocaine addict.
“Mice that had been exposed to alcohol and caffeine were somewhat numb to the rewarding effects of cocaine as adults,” van Rijn said. “Mice that were exposed to highly caffeinated alcoholic drinks later found cocaine wasn’t as pleasurable. They may then use more cocaine to get the same effect.”
For the study, the scientists wanted to find out if the mice exposed to the mixture of alcohol and caffeine would be more likely to consume higher amounts of another pleasurable substance. In a different experiment, some mice on the caffeinated alcohol beverage were also exposed to the artificial sweetener saccharine.
The researchers learned the mice who drank the mixture of alcohol and energy drinks also consumed more saccharine than mice given water during adolescence. According to the results, the mice who regularly got the caffeinated alcohol had a definite change in brain chemistry.
“Their brains have been changed in such a way that they are more likely to abuse natural or pleasurable substances as adults,” van Rijn said.
Often marketed to teenagers, energy drinks contain as much as 10 times the caffeine of soft drinks. Some very popular energy drinks, like Red bull and Monster, are commonly mixed with liquor to combat the fatigue and depressing effects of alcohol during a night of drinking. Some believe it helps prolong a night of partying.
Some beverage companies have even created alcohol-infused energy drinks with names like Four Loko, Joose, and Moonshot. However, in recent years these drinks have come under intense scrutiny from government authorities. In turn, many companies have altered the ingredients and have added detailed warning labels describing the potential negative effects of mixing alcohol and energy drinks.
Due to ethical reasons, adolescent humans could not participate in the Purdue study, but scientists have found that mice brains react in a similar manner to human brains when exposed to drugs. The results of the study were published in the journal, PLOS One.
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