University Officials Warn Against Four Loko
Drink’s combination of alcohol and caffeine labeled dangerous
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 firstname.lastname@example.org Comments