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Alcohol-Energy Drink Cocktails May Permanently Harm Your Brain

Alcohol-Energy Drink Cocktails May Permanently Harm Your Brain

July 4, 2024

If you enjoy the odd night out, the chances are you’ve come across Jägerbombs, or a similar mix of spirits and energy drinks. The all-in-one cocktail is a fan favorite among those trying to keep their eyes open on an all-night bender. But, according to new research, this enlivening elixir may be causing permanent damage to your brain.

Alcohol is a depressant that works by slowing down activity in parts of the brain, potentially impairing our judgement and reducing out reaction times. Meanwhile, energy drinks are a stimulant, working to increase our alertness as well as our blood pressure and heart rate. So, what happens when these two opposing chemical pathways are switched on at once?

Previous research from Purdue University has suggested that highly caffeinated alcoholic beverages may trigger changes in the adolescent brain similar to those caused by cocaine, numbing our reward circuitry and potentially increasing our risk of substance abuse.\Now, a new study from the Cittadella University in Monserrato has found that these caffeinated cocktails may induce behavioral impairments that persist into adulthood.

“Adolescence is a period of development characterized by cognitive, emotional, [and] neurobiological maturation,” the researchers write. “Adolescence is also characterized by highly risky decision-making and increased vulnerability to alcohol abuse.”

The study, published in the journal Neuropharmacology, used a group of adolescent rats to investigate the long-term effects of binge drinking alcohol, energy drinks (in this case Red Bull) and the two combined. The rats then underwent a series of behavioral tests and physiological tests and scans which were repeated at different timepoints after the binge-drinking treatment.

The team found the combining alcohol with energy drinks was associated with impairments in learning and memory tasks that persisted into adulthood. The combined cocktail was also associated with deficiencies in the communication between brain cells in both adolescents and adults.

However, it wasn’t all bad: the caffeinated cocktails did appear to have a protective effect against the negative effects of binge-drinking on short-term memory. This is potentially due to the antagonistic behavior of alcohol and energy drinks on our brains. However, this result is inconclusive as previous studies in humans have shown that combining energy drinks with alcohol does not negate the effects of alcohol-induced cognitive impairment.

Larger sample sizes are also needed to confirm these results as well as to explore whether these effects differ between males and females. More research is also needed to explore these effects in humans. Even so, the study adds to a growing body of evidence that combining alcohol and energy drinks can have long-lasting impacts on the teenage brain.

“Overall, the study indicates that binge-like drinking alcohol mixed with energy drinks adolescent exposure represents a habit that may affect permanently hippocampal plasticity,” the researchers write.