Could Mixing Alcohol with Energy Drinks Cause Changes in the Brain?

Thursday, 03 November 2016

Many mixed drinks combine alcohol with energy drinks, but a new study using mice has revealed that this mixture could cause changes within the brain.

In the study, mice that were given alcohol and energy drinks together saw brain changes similar to those seen when mice are given cocaine.

Although it’s not clear whether or not these findings can also be applied to humans, the study does suggest that teenagers who drink this combination of drinks could experience similar changes, according to the researchers. They said that the concoction could cause changes in the teenage brain’s ability to respond to rewarding substances and these changes may last into adulthood.

Richard van Rijn is Purdue University’s assistant professor of medicinal chemistry and he co-authored the study. He said the researchers clearly saw effects of the mixed drinks that would not be seen if drinking either one or the other. He believes the two substance in conjunction pushed the adolescent mice over the limit, causing changes in their behaviour and altering their brains’ neurochemistry.

Energy drinks are often marketed to the teenage population and the researchers said they can contain up to 10 times the amount of caffeine as the same amount of soda. These studies cannot be carried out in teenage humans for ethical reasons, which is why the researchers used mice in this experiment.

In the study, the researchers gave a group of mice access to both water and energy drinks and another group were given a mixture of energy drinks and alcohol. Some had access to only energy drinks and some were only given alcohol. All the mice had access to food and water for the duration of the study.

The research lasted for a month, after which time the researchers studied the brains of the mice. They discovered that the mice who drank the energy drinks and alcohol together showed higher levels of the protein responsible for brain chemistry changes, compared to those who drank only energy drinks or only alcohol.

Levels of this protein in the mice that drank the mixture were similar to those that occur in mice given access to drugs like morphine or cocaine.

The mice were then exposed to the drug cocaine. The researchers found that the mice who had been given the energy drink and alcohol mixture were not as sensitive to the effects of cocaine as those who had not had the mixture.

According to van Rijn, drinking the mixture made the mice relatively numb to the cocaine as adults.

The findings will need to be confirmed by further studies, but the researchers say that previous studies of other drugs in both mice and humans have shown that changes in mouse brains triggered by drug abuse are similar to those that occur in humans. However, it is still unclear whether the new findings would be the same in human brains.