Cocaine and caffeinated alcoholic beverages have the same effects on adolescent brains, according to a new study by researchers at Perdue University, which was released on Monday. The two-part study, which was published in Alcohol and PLOS ONE journals, evaluated the effects of caffeinated alcohol in the brains of adolescent mice and found that they reacted similarly to mice who had been administered cocaine.
The first experiment monitored mice behavior while they were under the influence of caffeinated alcoholic beverages and found that they still were not more likely to drink more alcohol as adults. However, during the second part of the experiment, mice that were given high-caffeinated drinks mixed with alcohol not only behaved in the same manner as mice who had been given cocaine but they had increased levels of the protein FosB, which scientists say is responsible for long-term changes in the neurochemistry of the brain. It’s this same type of neurochemistry change in the brain that researchers said cause drug users to struggle with addiction.
However, the mice neither received the enjoyable effects of cocaine that human users usually associate with the drug nor were they able to find cocaine “as pleasurable” as the highly caffeinated alcoholic drinks, which the study’s lead author Richard Van Rijn said could potentially lead mice to “use more cocaine to get the same effect.”
"It seems the two substances together push them over a limit that causes changes in their behavior and changes the neurochemistry in their brains," van Rijn said in a statement. "We're clearly seeing effects of the combined drinks that we would not see if drinking one or the other."
Researchers hope further research on alcoholic energy drinks will help them determine the effects of more substances that may be harmful to adolescent brains.
Alcohol infused energy drinks like Four Loko, Joose, Core High Gravity and Moonshot received FDA warnings back in 2010 after the department called the beverages a “public health concern.” Since then, Four Loko and many other alcoholic energy drink companies have changed the ingredients and put more detailed alcohol facts on cans.
Red Bull and Monster, two popular energy drinks that are often mixed with liquor, have 111 and 86 milligrams of caffeine, respectively.