On Halloween weekend, several Skidmore College students ended up in the emergency room, reportedly after drinking the latest rage in alcoholic beverages: Four Loko. My son, a Skidmore junior, told me about the trend a few weeks ago. Indeed, college kids across the country seem to like the stuff despite recent headlines that some are ending up in the hospital after consuming it. I spoke with two college students who tried the drink for the first time last week and got their take on the "blackout-in-a-can."
Four Loko, a potent mix of malt liquor and caffeine, is one of several so-called alcohol energy drinks favored by many teens because it's inexpensive (approximately $2.50 for a 23.5-ounce can), comes in eight fruity carbonated flavors, and can be readily picked up at grocery stores. In New York state, one can has 12 percent alcohol (others have 6 percent depending on state laws), an alcohol content equal to about two 12-ounce beers. Each can also contains the same amount of caffeine as a tall Starbucks coffee, according to the Four Loko website. And that's only part of the problem. While most kids pass out after drinking a certain amount of alcohol, the caffeine in Four Loko tends to keep them awake so that they can continue to drink. As a result, they seem to get drunk faster and are at a higher risk of alcohol poisoning.
His roommate said he tried it because he was curious, and had heard so many kids say that they like it. He had one can along with a few shots of rum. “Within minutes, I got the spins and passed out leaning against the wall,” he said. When he woke up, he began vomiting and felt his heart racing so fast that it scared him.
Sadly, the college newspaper of Columbia University urged last week, "Don’t Ban Four Loko…we're all big boys and girls, capable of making responsible decisions without an overbearing governmental nanny.” But that’s just loco, and reflects a lapse in judgment for the well-regarded campus publication. Apparently the Michigan Liquor Control Commission agrees. Last week it banned the sales of alcoholic caffeinated drinks statewide. Let's hope it doesn't take an inevitable tragedy to get other states to take the drinks off the shelves.
—Orly Avitzur, M.D., Consumer Reports medical adviser