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Caffeinated alcohol is 'cocaine' to teens

AAP logoAAP 26/10/2016 Sarah Wiedersehn

For teenagers, mixing energy drinks with alcohol is like taking cocaine, according to a new study.

US scientist Richard Van Rijn, an assistant professor in medicinal chemistry and molecular pharmacology at Purdue University, says the harmful cocktail appears to trigger changes in the adolescent brain similar to taking the illicit drug, and that the consequences last into adulthood.

Energy drinks, often marketed to teens, can contain between six milligrams to 240 milligrams of caffeine per serve. For many this is about 10 times the caffeine as soda - a common beverage mixed with alcohol.

But little is known about the health effects of the drinks when consumed with alcohol.

A new study, published in journal PLOS ONE, found adolescent mice given caffeinated alcohol became increasingly more active, much like mice given cocaine.

Neurochemical changes in the brain were also detected.

Levels of the protein FosB, which is a marker for long-term changes in neurochemistry, were elevated in levels similar to those abusing drugs such as cocaine and morphine.

"It seems the two substances together push them over a limit that causes changes in their behaviour and changes the neurochemistry in their brains," said assistant professor van Rijn.

"We're clearly seeing effects of the combined drinks that we would not see if drinking one or the other," he said.

Worryingly, when the same mice had grown to adult age, they had become "somewhat numb" to the rewarding effects of cocaine.

"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," said ass prof van Rijn.

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