Dr. Alex Dopico Awarded $100,000 to Study How Consuming Caffeinated Drinks with Alcohol Affects Arteries in the Brain

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UTHSC’s Dr. Alex Dopico was awarded $100,000 over two years to study how arteries in the brain react when alcohol and caffeine are consumed together.

The growing popularity of consuming caffeinated drinks with alcohol has prompted Alex Dopico, MD, PhD, of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) to expand the research he has pursued for more than 20 years into the effects of alcohol on the brain.

Dr. Dopico, Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Pharmacology in the College of Medicine at UTHSC, has received a grant totaling $100,000 over two years from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) to study the effect on arteries in the brain of alcohol and caffeine when they are consumed together. The award comes in response to a competitive funding opportunity issued by the Office of Dietary Supplements of the National Institutes of Health.

“I applied for this grant to study caffeine-alcohol interactions on brain arteries given the epidemic proportion that intake of energy drinks and alcohol has taken nowadays, particularly across U.S. college campuses,” he said.

Energy drinks typically contain caffeine as a primary active ingredient. An increasingly popular practice among young people involves consumption of energy drinks with alcoholic beverages.

In 2010, the Food and Drug Administration issued letters objecting to manufacturers’ claims on premixed caffeinated alcohol products that the addition of caffeine to the alcoholic beverages is generally safe. As a result, manufacturers removed premixed caffeinated alcohol products from the market. However, the practice of consuming energy drinks along with alcoholic beverages is on the rise, particularly among young people at parties.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that caffeine, when consumed with alcohol, can mask feelings of intoxication, but does not reduce actual levels of intoxication in the body. As a result, the CDC says drinkers who consume alcohol mixed with caffeine are three times more likely to binge drink than those who do not mix the two.

Dr. Dopico’s new grant supplements a $3.6 million, 10-year research award he received in 2009 from the NIAAA for his alcohol studies. His overall research goal is to develop drugs that target the proteins within cells that control the physiological and behavioral changes associated with alcohol intoxication to prevent or reverse those effects.

The supplement brings an additional $49,999 the first year, and an equal amount the second. It will allow Dr. Dopico to work to pinpoint the specific molecular targets and mechanisms in the brain that influence caffeine’s interaction with alcohol when they are consumed together.

More information about how these two substances interact in the body could help inform public policy about their consumption.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, part of the National Institutes of Health, supports and conducts research on how alcohol consumption affects human health.