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EC: Study Shows Caffeinated Cocktails and Cocaine Are Not All That Different

It's tempting to begin a boozy brunch with a caffeine and alcohol combo when you're doing your best to recover from a hard night. But if you had a Red Bull and vodka or two the evening before, you might be fiending for a rush that's in a class of its own. A Class A drug, that is. It turns out that caffeinated cocktails and cocaine can create the same neurochemical brain responses, especially in younger drinkers. According to Purdue University's Richard van Rijn, the combination of caffeinated energy drinks with alcohol can have the same negative physical effects as snorting cocaine. No shady trips to the bathroom or incessant cases of the sniffles required.

But before you wonder whether or not the similarities between caffeinated cocktails and cocaine could provide you with a money-saving lifehack at the club, take heed. Van Rijn's research specifies that caffeinated cocktails and cocaine are similar not only in their highs, but also in their ability to re-wire the brain in ways that make habits easier to pick up. So if you were wondering why you end up having more than a few caffeinated cocktails in a night, know that it's just your brain's reward receptors rewiring themselves. Have fun out there, champ!

To test the similarities between cocaine and a vodka Red Bull cocktail, van Rijn got adolescent lab rats a bit drunk and measured their brain activity. He found that the combo lit up similar chemical pathways in the brain as cocaine, and that the hard-partying mice found it harder to find the same pleasure from caffeinated cocktails as they grew older. Looks like our rodent friends aren't immune from chasing the dragon, either.

What might be the most troubling bit of news to come out of this study is that drinking caffeinated cocktails like Red Bull and vodka can make people more open to trying substances like, you guessed it, cocaine. Anyone who's dabbled with a bit of indoor skiing can tell you that the only thing you want while on coke is, well, more coke. A version of this plays out for caffeinated cocktail drinkers too, as neuropathological changes make the brain less averse to trying dangerous drugs after a buzzy drink or two. So if you'd rather just play it safe on your next night out (or during your next Irish coffee-infused brunch), you're better off consuming caffeine and alcohol separately. Your brain (and your bank account) will thank you later.