Countless people consume energy drinks on a daily basis, whether it be in an attempt to wake up in the morning, or as a mid-day energy booster. Despite the fact that energy drinks have been noted as containing up to ten times more caffeine than caffeinated soda, the health effects of consuming these beverages on an ongoing basis has yet to be fully understood.
Similarly, alcohol is a substance that is frequently consumed by many on a regular basis. When not consumed in excess, and when reckless behaviors do not take place after that consumption, such as drinking and then driving, alcohol may not necessarily be viewed as an overly dangerous substance.
However, when alcohol is combined with energy drinks, like vodka and Red Bull, the health risks can increase exponentially, especially when consumed by adolescents.
Purdue University’s assistant professor of medicinal chemistry and molecular pharmacology, Richard van Rijn, and graduate student, Meridith Robins, conducted a study on mice to determine what the effects of combining alcohol and energy drinks are when consumed by adolescents, specifically. Since prior studies using mice in relation to drug use correlate to that which has been demonstrated in humans, van Rijn and Robins used these animals as their test subjects.
During their initial research, van Rijn and Robins were able to determine that mice that were given energy drinks during their adolescent stage did not demonstrate a greater likelihood of consuming alcohol during their adult stage when compared to a control group. Yet, when adolescent mice were given a combination of alcohol and energy drinks, they demonstrated signs that were strikingly similar to those demonstrated by mice that had consumed cocaine.
Furthermore, as the mice continued to receive more caffeinated alcohol, they became increasingly active. Van Rijn concluded that this is due to the fact that, when mixed together, alcohol and energy drinks can cause substantial changes to occur in the brain, ultimately resulting in alterations in behavior and lasting changes in neurochemistry, much like what happens to the brain when cocaine is consumed.
Tainting an Adolescent’s Future
So what does this have to do with human adolescents?
Simply put, when young people consume energy drinks mixed with alcohol, their brain chemistry is going to begin to change, very likely in a negative way. As the brain is on a continuous course of development during adolescence, the introduction of various substances can cause hindrances in that development. And those hindrances can permanently affect adolescents as they grow into adulthood.
When the adolescent mice consumed caffeinated alcohol, vin Rijn and Robins noted that there was an increase in the levels of a protein (ΔFosB) that both humans and mice possess. This particular protein can disturb the balance of chemicals in the brain, often resulting in long-term changes. Notably, this protein is often amplified in the brains of people who are addicted to morphine and cocaine.
If an adolescent chooses to consume an energy drink that is mixed with alcohol, he or she is going to experience a trigger in the reward center of his or her brain. That fact, in combination with the previously mentioned protein level increase, prompted the question of whether or not repeated exposure to caffeinated alcohol would cause the mice to become less sensitive to other pleasure-inducing stimuli. In order to test this hypothesis, vin Rijn and Robins gave the mice they were testing an artificial sweetener. Their theory was that if the mice who had consumed caffeinated alcohol were experiencing less sensitivity in the reward area of their brains, they would consume more of the sweetener in an attempt to experience pleasure than would the mice who did not have the caffeinated alcohol.
Their theory was proven correct.
When then given cocaine, the mice responded the same way. The animals that had been exposed to caffeinated alcohol were less sensitive to the rewarding effects of cocaine, often causing them to be uninterested in the substance.
When applying this theory to human adolescents, it could seem logical to think that this might be a good thing. If their brains change to the point where they are less likely to experience pleasure from consuming cocaine, then it’s possible they won’t want to use the drug. However, there is another, much more tragic, possibility. These adolescents may still choose to consume cocaine, but will ultimately have to consume it in greater amounts in order to achieve the pleasurable sensations that they are seeking. This, in turn, can lead to countless negative ramifications.
While it may seem obvious to most that adolescents shouldn’t drink alcohol, the unfortunate reality is that many do. Adolescence is often a time of exploration and experimentation. If an adolescent is confronted with an opportunity to consume an alcoholic beverage that has been mixed with an energy drink, it is quite possible that he or she will take it. For some, this experimentation might end there. But for others, it may be just the beginning of a downward spiral.
For these reasons and more, it is imperative that young people are made aware of the dangers that they are facing if they choose to partake in certain behaviors. Additionally, parents, guardians, caregivers, teachers, and other adults in an adolescent’s life should not ignore any warning signs that may indicate that the youth is consuming alcohol or any other substances. It is always better to err on the side of caution, especially when it comes to children and adolescents.
If a problem does exist, and a youth in your life is struggling drugs and/or alcohol addiction, it is essential that you get him or her the help that he or she needs as soon as possible in order for future detriments to be avoided.
About Vermilion Behavioral Health
Located in Lafayette, Louisiana, Vermilion Behavioral Health Systems is the largest free-standing psychiatric and substance abuse treatment center in the Acadiana region. As the only provider of adolescent inpatient services in Lafayette and its surrounding areas, Vermilion takes great pride in its ability to deliver age-specific treatment that incorporates therapeutic interventions that are developmentally appropriate for young people. Licensed by the state of Louisiana and accredited by The Joint Commission, Vermilion also has programming options available for adults, as well as specialized care offered for geriatric patients and members of the military. By coming to Vermilion, patients can expect to receive comprehensive treatment that promotes true and lasting healing.