Science Says Your Vodka-Red Bull Is Just As Bad For You As Cocaine

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So even though science has proven caffeine is good for us in so many ways, it turns out mixing it with alcohol is maybe not such a great idea. Though they may be a perfect match for having fun, the combined effect of caffeinated cocktails on the brain long-term is similar to the changes caused by taking cocaine — according to a study published in the open access science journal PLoS ONE. Cancel that coffee beer, bartender!

The Purdue University researchers studied mice to determine the effects of mixing caffeine with alcohol (Picture scientists serving mice tiny drinks. That’s not what happened obviously but picture it, isn’t it great?) and found that the effect of combined alcohol and caffeine produced a greater increase in locomotor activity in adolescent mice than caffeine alone. The increase was similar to the effect produced by giving mice cocaine. They also learned that giving a mouse a mixture of caffeine and alcohol could sensitize (or enhance) its behavioral response to a later dose of cocaine, and vice versa.

The team also looked at the changes in the brain caused by the booze and caffeine mix and saw elevated levels of the protein ΔFosB in the nucleus accumbens — an area of the brain important in addiction pathways. And just like with the behavioral effects, this change is also seen when you give a mouse coke.

The age of the mice in the study indicates adolescent brains may be particularly sensitive to the effects of mixing alcohol and caffeine, as is true with many drugs. Adolescent brains are extra squishy and prone to changes, after all. And since a lot of useful knowledge about human brains comes from studying tiny mouse ones, this study means it’s probably a good idea for everyone, especially teens, to chill with the mixing energy drinks and alcohol.