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University Officials Warn Against Four Loko

Drink’s combination of alcohol and caffeine labeled dangerous

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four loko.jpg

Four Loko’s combination of caffeine and alcohol has earned it the label “blackout in a can” and resulted in warnings from schools nationwide about its dangers. Photo by Flickr user Joe Mud

Boston University officials issued a warning to students Monday about the dangers of Four Loko, a fruity malt drink whose combination of caffeine and alcohol has earned it the moniker “blackout in a can.” The drink has made headlines in the past few weeks after sickening numerous students at Central Washington University in Washington state and at Ramapo College in New Jersey. Some of the students required hospitalization for alcohol poisoning. Both schools subsequently banned the drink.

Four Loko has become particularly popular on college campuses in the last year because of its potent mixture of malt liquor and caffeine, its sugary flavors, including watermelon and blue raspberry, and its low cost (approximately $2.50 for a 23.5-ounce can). One can has an alcohol content equal to four 12-ounce beers and 156 milligrams of caffeine (more than the average cup of coffee).

In an email to the Boston University community, David McBride, director of Student Health Services, and Thomas Robbins, BU chief of police, stated that “the danger here is not just the alcohol content, but rather, the combination of high amounts of alcohol and caffeine.” Noting, “Alcohol companies are targeting college students with these products without regard for your safety,” Robbins and McBride went on to write, “We strongly recommend that you steer clear of these types of drinks and from mixing alcohol with other caffeine-containing beverages.”

Other schools, including Harvard, Northeastern, and Boston College, have sent similar messages to their students this week.

Four Loko’s combination of caffeine and alcohol is potentially dangerous, says McBride, because the caffeine masks the intoxicating and depressant effects of the alcohol and makes people feel more awake as they drink. “This mitigation of alcohol effects may lead people to drink more than they would have if they were using alcohol alone,” he says.

“One drink will get you pretty messed up,” says Dylan, a student in the College of Arts & Sciences, who requested that his last name not to be used. “I can buy it at the 7-Eleven at home, and it’s good to split with friends. I’ve seen people who can hold their liquor pretty well get very drunk off of this drink.”

“The drink leaves people significantly more intoxicated than they think,” warns David Rosenbloom, a School of Public Health professor of community health sciences and director of Join Together, an alcohol and drug policy and prevention program at SPH. “Research shows that people who drink these types of drinks and leave a bar are three more times likely to be intoxicated and four times more likely to drive drunk. This is not a safe product.”

The Food and Drug Administration, at the urging of 18 states’ attorneys general, is currently reviewing whether Four Loko and other caffeinated alcoholic drinks are safe for consumption.

In a letter sent to Four Loko retailers and posted on its website, Phusion Projects, the Ohio-based company that manufactures the beverage, wrote: “Our products are not energy drinks, as they’ve been called—and when consumed responsibly, they are just as safe as any other alcoholic beverages.” The company went on to note that “this conclusion was recently affirmed by way of a study we had prepared in response to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration request for information.”

But some students are not persuaded. Four Loko “is really gross,” says Becca McLouth (COM’12). “It’s a bad idea if you react badly to caffeine. I tried it once, but didn’t drink that much because it tastes very bad. You get a really jittery, weird feeling. I know someone who blacked out and chipped a tooth after he drank it.”

Amy Laskowski can be reached at amlaskow@bu.edu.

18 Comments

18 Comments on University Officials Warn Against Four Loko

  • Anonymous on 11.03.2010 at 6:55 am

    Thanks for giving 4 Loko the best advertisement you could possibly give it. The universities in Boston really have no idea how human behavior works, do they? I never had any desire to drink the stuff until I was told how much it would mess me up. Brilliant advertising campaign.

  • Jason Blanchette on 11.03.2010 at 7:37 am

    Designed for the kiddies

    Funny New York Times review of Four Loko “each sporting a few ultrabright, childlike hues in a kind of rippling weave that evokes a camouflage pattern. Fatigues like these are what an army of Teletubbies would wear into battle”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/31/weekinreview/31bruni.html

  • Anonymous on 11.03.2010 at 10:17 am

    People are so dumb. Drinks like this (caffeinated alcohol) have been around forever. Don’t blame the drink, blame the stupid people who clearly don’t know their limit and boast about how many four lokos they’ll be drinking tonight. If it’s not four loko that’s sending kids to the hospital, it’s something else. You know why? Because binge drinking is “cool” that’s why.

  • Steve on 11.03.2010 at 10:17 am

    Are we really blaming the drink?

    Actually, the wonderfully useful recommendation from Health services is to “avoid mixing other substances with alcohol as a general rule,” indicating that Everclear may be a safer way to go. Aside from the idiocy of such a blanket statement, the SHS message and all the other outrage and cautions about FourLokos seem to overlook that people have been doing stupid things, hurting themselves, and getting alcohol poisoning, for ages. Sure, the cans could use a warning label stating that the buzz will catch up with you when the caffeine wears off, but dumb college kids will get themselves into trouble with or without FourLokos.

  • Anonymous on 11.03.2010 at 10:20 am

    Great article about this in

    Great article about this in the BU Quad:

    http://buquad.com/2010/11/01/four-loko/

    It points out the *real* argument against Loko is that it is made by and for immature tool bags. High school students should be attracted to the loud colors and excited by the official warnings of danger. Adults taking out loans and working on a B.A. should not.

  • Anonymous on 11.03.2010 at 10:29 am

    To the three people that just ripped on this article:

    haters gonna hate.

    BU Today is keeping it real, SON

  • Anonymous on 11.03.2010 at 10:39 am

    The obvious problem with the drink is that the caffeine masks the impact of the alcohol. It’s akin to taking ibuprofen while lifting weights.

  • Eric Helmuth on 11.03.2010 at 11:07 am

    Not energy drinks?

    Phusion is being disingenuous to protest the “energy drinks” label. They used the term on their own website until a short while ago, and the website Fast Company caught them. See this story for screenshots of Phusion’s web page before they started getting unwanted attention for their marketing efforts: http://www.fastcompany.com/1699398/four-loko-phusion-projects-chris-hunter-alcoholic-energy-drinks

  • Anonymous on 11.03.2010 at 11:26 am

    O SNAP!

  • Terrell Gibbs on 11.03.2010 at 11:36 am

    Bad combination

    Stimulants and alcohol are a bad combination. As a rule, unless you do something really stupid, like chugging hard liquor, it is hard to drink enough alcohol to kill yourself, because generally you’ll pass out first. But caffeine and other stimulants will keep you awake and drinking. Also, stimulants mask the normal cues that tell you when you’ve had enough. You are far more likely to misjudge your level of intoxication and attempt a physical activity that you are too drunk to do safely–the worst, of course, being getting behind the wheel of a car.

  • Anonymous on 11.03.2010 at 11:45 am

    i agree with whoever said that this is a brilliant advertising campaign…i’ve never even heard of this stuff, and now i really wanna try it….good job BU lol

  • Anonymous on 11.03.2010 at 12:36 pm

    I’m more concerned about the 660 calories per can. Can we get some Sugar-Free Loko?

  • Anonymous on 11.03.2010 at 2:50 pm

    Precious Life

    You have been given the precious gift of life and only you are responsible for the choices you make, not advertising companies, BU, your friends, but YOU ONLY. How would you feel if your child or sister or brother or anyone you really loved and cared about risked their life (and possibly the lives of others) by poisoning their minds and bodies with a mind altering drug like Four Loko or any of the other types of drugs, and alcohol that are out there?

  • Anonymous on 11.03.2010 at 3:55 pm

    I LOVE LOKOS

    FOUR LOKOS ARE SO EINS!

  • Anonymous on 11.03.2010 at 5:22 pm

    Dude I’m eight loko right now.

  • Anonymous on 11.04.2010 at 5:57 pm

    If my old man...

    If my old man saw me drinking a beer in a can like that, he would probably go loko on my ***

  • Anonymous on 11.04.2010 at 10:01 pm

    Cool!!

    I had never heard of this beverage before reading this highly informative article, but now I’m kinda intrigued . . .

  • Emily on 11.05.2010 at 10:51 am

    4locos is amazing :) …HOWEVER, it does make u kinda BLUR certain moments and what not.. but why in the world, out of all the “BAD STUFF” out there, their distinguishing four locos among the rest…everyone should know their limit..either way, its just like gettin f* up off sum morgan or sum vodka .. u just dont instantly feel it, when u least expect it..BAMMMM!!! it’ll have you with a huge ass smirk on ur face, and big googly eyes.. i drink so much of it i think i should advertise for it :) Either way…..just be smart on how many u consume..cause god dam…they’re like a beautiful disaster lol

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