Brain and relaxation drinks – the new fad

You’ve seen them advertised an on store shelves – drinks with names like Neuro, IDrink, and Dreamwater promise that their combinations of hormones, neurotransmitters, and related amino-acids will keep you relaxed, focused, happy, and improve your sex life. We’ve seen these sorts of promises before from unregulated dietary supplements.

The problem is that, since these sort of relaxation or brain drinks aren’t tightly controlled by the FDA like most medicines, little is known about what is actually in them let alone the sources for those ingredients, their safety, or often the dose. While it is true that many of these over the counter drinks purport to offer the sort of benefits or effects usually associated with the substances they are supposed to contain. But what doses are proper and what combinations are safe? Fortunately for the makers of these drinks, those questions don’t have to be answered by dietary supplement makers. Lucky for them.

This sort of drink fad reminds many of us in the scientific community of the issues raised when energy drinks like RedBull, Monster, Rockstar, and others showed up – pushing as much caffeine into users as 4-5 or more cups of strong coffee in one can. Things got worse when those drinks were mixed with alcohol, finally culminating in their mixing right in the can! Lots of caffeine and alcohol?! Sure, here you go! Too bad drinking these in massive quantities sent dozens, if not hundreds, of young people across the United States to hospitals for cardiac problems, blackouts caused by excessive drinking masked by the caffeine, and near death from alcohol poisoning.

The question is – what may we find out about these new relaxation and brain drinks containing unspecified amounts of GABA, melatonin, 5-HTP, and other chemicals that are important for brain function. Will they help, hurt, or cause irreparable damage? Since we don’t have years of data and multiple studies assessing their use, that’s a question that’s going to take a while to answer – until then, sip carefully and be sure to take marketing slogans with a grain of salt.

New Year’s Eve without drugs or drinking alcohol?

For many people all around the world, New Year’s Eve celebrations mean a lot of partying. Often, that partying includes drinking alcohol, doing drugs, and generally engaging in one last night of “things you’ll forget about” in the year that has passed. I know the ritual and I took part in it often. Hell, the virtual symbol of NYE is the Champagne toast (talk about a trigger).

Champagne glasses are essentially the symbol of NYE celebration. No big deal for most people, trigger for addicts.Since high-school, NYE celebrations meant little more than getting so &#@$-faced that I wouldn’t be able to remember what happened the next morning. Actually that’s not true – I’ve only experienced one blackout in my life – I always remembered what I did on New Year’s Eve. From my early days of drinking as close to an entire bottle of vodka as I could along with some gravity bong hits for my CB1 and CB2 receptors to fully light up to later parties that involved acid (LSD), ecstasy (MDMA), cocaine, and finally crystal meth, it was all about excess in its rawest form.

Humans enjoy celebrations in a way that other animals simply don’t. It comes with our keen awareness of past, present, and future. It’s the way we mark special events that only have true meaning because we assigned it to them. It’s part of what makes us the most social of animals and is tightly connected to our brains and their massive supply of executive function. But none of that matters when you’re loaded on drugs or alcohol on New Year’s Eve. All that matters is that you’re having fun.

For most people, this sort of partying doesn’t cause any problems. As long as they don’t drive under the influence, getting a little messed up is just not that big a deal. Hey, getting high on drugs and alcohol has left us with some of the best art, music, and writing I can think of and out livers and kidneys can handle the stress pretty well. But for some people, that same seemingly innocent set of behaviors can lead to a far darker place.

For addicts who have become dependent on drugs or alcohol, or for those people teetering on the edge of addiction with drugs and alcohol as still fully functional crutches that make the world slightly more tolerable, that same partying can get dangerous. It can lead to memory loss and accidental death. It can lead to the destruction of property, relationships, and self-esteem. It can lead to handcuffs and metal bars that don’t go away when the effect of the drugs or alcohol wears off.

As I’ve talked about so often here, we’re still pretty bad at telling the difference between those who are simply partying hard and those who have a real problem. We can tell after the fact, looking back at how long someone struggled (hard-core addicts can spend decades struggling with addiction while the more tame abusers/addicts only last a few years) but that doesn’t do anyone much good now does it?

I’ve sat in many groups with addicts trying to plan for these holidays so that they can make it to the other end without throwing away everything they’ve worked so hard for. The temptation of shooting up, smoking a bowl, or drinking a fifth of your favorite liqueur (or 2 bottles of wine)  can be too much when everyone around you makes it seem like so much fun. Many make it through with little more than resolved anxiety and a sense of relief. But every year, a few get left behind, some to return a bit later with a little more of a war story than they had previously.

The point – Making it through the holidays

The holidays, and New Year’s Eve in particular, are a bad time to try to figure out which of these groups you belong to exactly because everyone else is being excessive too. An addict can easily cross the line and seem no different. Until the next day that is. So this holiday, do yourself a favor and hold off on any grand experiment. Take it easy, spend some time with real friends who have your best interest at heart, and make it to the next year in style. You can always test yourself another day.