Mixing Energy Drinks and Alcohol May Affect Adolescent Brains Like Cocaine
According to researchers, mixing high energy drinks with alcohol triggers changes in the teen brain similar to those experiences when taking cocaine.
Purdue University study found adolescent brains react to caffeinated alcohol like an adult brain would react to cocaine. The combination damages brain’s reward center, has devastating impacts that last long into adulthood. It triggered a rise in levels of dangerous proteins that have lasting neurological impacts, according to the study.
Consuming highly caffeinated alcoholic beverages triggers changes in the adolescent brain similar to taking cocaine, and the consequences last into adulthood as an altered ability to deal with rewarding substances, according to a Purdue University study.
Richard van Rijn, an assistant professor of medicinal chemistry and molecular pharmacology, looked at the effects of highly caffeinated energy drinks and highly caffeinated alcohol in adolescent mice. These alcohol studies cannot be performed in adolescent humans, but changes seen in mouse brains with drugs of abuse have been shown to correlate to those in humans in many drug studies.
The study design
Energy drinks can contain as much as 10 times the caffeine as soda and are often marketed to adolescents. But little is known about the health effects of the drinks, especially when consumed with alcohol during adolescence.
The study showed that when high levels of caffeine were mixed with alcohol and given to adolescent mice, they showed physical and neurochemical signs similar to mice given cocaine.
With repeated exposure to the caffeinated alcohol, those adolescent mice became increasingly more active, much like mice given cocaine. The researchers also detected increased levels of the protein ΔFosB, which is marker of long-term changes in neurochemistry, elevated in those abusing drugs such as cocaine or morphine.
The article “Adolescent intake of caffeinated energy drinks does not affect adult alcohol consumption in C57BL/6 and BALB/c mice” was published in the journal PLOS ONE.
Testing the theory
To test that theory, Robins investigated if mice exposed to caffeinated alcohol during adolescence would consume higher amounts of a similarly pleasurable substance – saccharine, an artificial sweetener. They predicted that if the mice exhibited a numbed sense of reward, they would consume more saccharine.
They found that the caffeine/alcohol-exposed mice drank significantly more saccharine than mice exposed to water during adolescence, confirming that the caffeine/alcohol-exposed mice must have had a chemical change in the brain.
Adolescent intake of caffeinated energy drinks does not affect adult alcohol consumption in C57BL/6 and BALB/c mice by Meridith T. Robins, Julia N. DeFriel, Richard M. van Rijn in Alcohol, doi:10.1016/j.alcohol.2016.05.001