Mixing Alcohol and Energy Drinks Creates Cocaine-like Brain Changes in Adolescents
Previous studies have set out to uncover the dangers of adolescent energy drink consumption, but a recent study suggests mixing such drinks with alcohol causes brain changes similar to those caused by cocaine.
A new Purdue University study has found similarities in adolescent brain activity between mixing alcohol with energy drinks and consuming cocaine. Worryingly, energy drinks are largely marketed towards adolescents despite the fact that little is known about their long-term effects. Perhaps more alarmingly, the 13- to 14-year-old age group is the largest consumer of highly caffeinated energy drinks.
The study also suggests that those who drink high-caffeine alcohol drinks from a young age may find it more difficult to achieve the same high from cocaine as those who do not consume a lot of energy drinks, creating fears that the risk of overdose could be higher for energy drink consumers. Additionally, studies have suggested that those who consume energy drinks during adolescence display traits that are linked to future drug and alcohol abuse, as well as mental health conditions.
Mixing stimulants with depressants, as is the case with energy drinks and alcohol, has long been known as dangerous because of its effects on the heart. Yet many drinking establishments regularly hold specials and promotions on the likes of Jäger bombs and vodka Red Bulls. It appears that it is now more important than ever to be aware of the dangers of abusing such substances. What else do we currently know about the potential dangers of energy drinks with regards to alcohol abuse and cocaine addiction?
Alcohol and Energy Drink Consumption Could Exacerbate the Dangers of Coke
While drinking either energy drinks or alcohol alone do not have very similar effects to that of consuming cocaine, the combination of the two has shown very different results in lab mice tests. In the study, led by Richard van Rijn, an assistant professor of medicinal chemistry and molecular pharmacology, mice that consumed the energy drink-alcohol mix showed a stronger tolerance to cocaine.
Says van Rijn: “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. Their brains have been changed in such a way that they are more likely to abuse natural or pleasurable substances as adults.”
The changes in the brain caused by drinking high-caffeine drinks were similar to changes caused by prolonged cocaine abuse, creating high levels of the long-lasting protein ΔFosB which makes quitting cocaine addiction difficult. In addition, the brain’s natural reward system was affected in a way that could lead adolescents to chase highs from stimulants like cocaine in the future.
This means that we could see cocaine addiction become an even bigger problem in the future, and those who have consumed energy drinks on a frequent basis may find abstaining from such drugs very difficult. It appears that effective cocaine addiction treatment could now be more important than ever.
Energy Drinks Linked to Drug Abuse and Mental Health
A study conducted by the University of Michigan, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, found that teenagers who consume energy drinks are twice as likely to use alcohol and drugs. The findings, based on a survey of 22,000 US adolescents, also suggests that those who regularly drink high-caffeine drinks are more likely to smoke and develop mental health conditions. Around a third of teenagers aged between 13 to 18 drink energy drinks daily.
The large-scale survey showed a general link between drug abuse and energy drink consumption but could not prove any cause and effect, meaning the link could work both ways. Cocaine users may attempt to alleviate their withdrawal symptoms by consuming energy drinks and potentially mixing them with alcohol. However, with the link between caffeinated alcohol drinks and cocaine now apparent, this may be a dangerous approach.
Many mental health problems have been at least partly attributed to the brain’s reward centre not working as it should, often leading sufferers to chase highs from drugs like cocaine. It’s for this reason that sufferers of mental health conditions like ADHD may face a higher risk of addiction.
The Danger of Mixing Energy Drinks with Alcohol
High-caffeine energy drinks have been linked to a variety of health conditions such as nausea, sleep impairment and cardiovascular symptoms. However, energy drinks become more dangerous when mixed with alcohol.
Jayne Dinsdale, an 18-year-old from Somerset, UK, almost lost her life after drinking large amounts of energy drink mixers. Dinsdale drank 10 Jager bombs, a combination of Red Bull and Jägermeister, in quick succession and suffered three heart attacks before being rushed to the emergency room. She now needs an internal defibrillator. Medics said that as the alcohol began to wear off, the leftover caffeine from the energy drinks caused her heart rate to surge to dangerous levels.
How Should We Combat the Rise in Energy Drinks?
With insufficient hard evidence on the long-term effects of energy drink consumption and its relation to drug and alcohol abuse, little is being done to prevent adolescents and young people from consuming the high-caffeinated drinks. However, it appears that there are very real concerns emerging and that energy drinks perhaps should not be geared towards teenagers as much as they currently are.
It is widely believed that youngsters who are ‘sensation seekers’ and ‘risk takers’ are the most likely group to drink energy drinks frequently, though more research is required. But it is these kinds of personality traits that can often lead to cocaine or other drug addiction. Hopefully, more and more evidence will be uncovered as we progress into the future, and how to keep young sufferers of addiction safe will become clearer. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, fill out our form for a free assessment.