A recent study in juvenile male rats showed that consuming alcohol with caffeine, such as energy drinks over long periods could alter the normal response to anxiety-causing situations. The implication is that long-term juvenile alcohol drinkers who consume alcohol mixed with energy drinks have a high possibility of experiencing anxiety and having seizures if they abruptly stopped drinking.
Many alcohol drinkers, especially young adults, consume caffeine-containing energy drinks together with alcohol to reduce the intoxicating effects of alcohol. The practice has become a global trend whose psychological effect after long-term consumption is not well understood.
In a research article published in the Journal of Basic and Clinical Physiology and Pharmacology, the authors assessed how likely it is for male rats given caffeine and alcohol for one month to experience altered behaviors expressed as seizures and anxiety.
The authors also assessed the odds of severe side effects, including death, resulting from suddenly stopping the alcohol and caffeine consumption.
The rats were randomly assigned to different groups with different doses of caffeine, alcohol, and caffeine and alcohol. After feeding the rats daily for a month with these different doses, the rats were assessed for their anxiety-related responses using a device that measures anxiety and for their tendency to have seizures and die following suddenly stopping the consumption of caffeine and alcohol.
Prolonged consumption of low-dose caffeine, alcohol alone, and both caffeine and alcohol produced anxiety in the rats when compared to the animals that did not consume caffeine, alcohol, or both.
Caffeine protects against seizures
Consuming caffeine at both low and high doses increased the time to experience the first sign of a seizure, meaning that caffeine consumption is protective against seizures. Ethanol alone, and combined caffeine and ethanol shortened the time to experience a seizure.
At three days, there were more deaths among the animals that consumed caffeine and alcohol together and then suddenly stopped, than among those from other groups, at three days.
Sudden stop in consumption can increase anxiety and fits
“These drugs produced a concerted action in the brain of these animals that upon suddenly stopping their consumption, created the harmful effects that in their extreme form, caused death,” says Daniel Matovu, the lead author of the research.
These findings suggest that individuals who consume caffeine and ethanol together for a long time, and suddenly stop consuming these drugs, have an increased tendency to experience anxiety and an increased chance of having severe fits.
Harmful to the brain
The research contributes to the evidence showing that combined drinking of beverages containing caffeine and ethanol may be harmful to the brain if taken for a long time.
Together with human data reporting the dangers of chronic adolescent consumption of caffeine-mixed alcohol, these results draw attention to the potential safety risks of using highly caffeinated drinks with alcohol by adolescents and young adults.
Therefore, treatment of adolescents and young adults who chronically use caffeinated drinks with alcohol should take into account the likelihood of exaggerated behavioral effects during use and in acute withdrawal.
Appropriate treatment of such individuals should include considering their history of significant consumption of both caffeinated energy drinks and alcohol in order to prevent the potential anxiety, and life-threatening seizures that may result from abruptly stopping consumption.
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