Weekends at Stanford have a new flavor and a new kick. Four Loko, a fruit-flavored energy alcohol drink, has risen to prominence at Stanford and on campuses across the nation. According to ABC News, the drink combines 156 milligrams of caffeine (over a cup of coffee) with the equivalent of a 6-pack of beer in one very inexpensive can.
Colleges in New Jersey and Washington have already banned consumption of Four Loko on their campuses. Attorney Generals in 25 states have asked the FDA to review the health implications of the drink, and the FDA is now pressuring the manufacturers to prove the safety of the drink, according to the Seattle Times.
At Stanford, however, Ralph Castro, manager of the Substance Abuse Program at Vaden Health Center, said he is “more concerned about encouraging responsible use of alcohol in general. It doesn’t matter what people drink, if they’re drinking it inappropriately it’s going to be a problem.”
In response to the recent increase in hospitalizations at Stanford this quarter as compared to past years, Castro said, “it hasn’t been from drinking these drinks.” He thinks the danger is that “[students] are drinking too much hard liquor, too many shots, [and] too many mixed drinks.”
One fraternity member said, “As with any alcohol, people need to be educated about approaching something like [Four Loko]. I haven’t seen Four Loko cause any problems so far… [and] I don’t think it would be right to ban something such as Four Lokos without having justification for it.”
But officials calling for a ban of the drink point to cases around the country that indicate the dangers surrounding Four Loko. At Central Washington University, nine students were taken to the ER after consuming the drink, one of whom almost died. A 19-year-old in Philadelphia was also treated for a heart attack after consuming large amounts of Four Loko.
So what makes such a dangerous beverage so popular? Drinkers cite the price, taste, and feeling Four Lokos provide as reasons.
For poor college kids, the price of anything is a big issue. At about $2.50 per can, “it’s about as expensive as a regular energy drink,” said Pedro Gonzalez of Sigma Alpha Epsilon. “College students already consume a lot of energy drinks so the transition is fairly easy.”
Drinkers also emphasize the intense feeling they experience when under the influence of the energy-alcohol drink. “Four Lokos feel like a whole different animal,” said one fraternity member. “Four Lokos are an activity in itself, while other drinks are used to enhance an experience, like watching TV, playing video games, or just hanging out.”
“It’s meant to be done with music pumping in the background, fist pumping the Four Loko,” said a second anonymous fraternity member.
“It definitely gets you in the mood to rage,” he added. For the first anonymous fraternity member, Four Lokos should be used sparingly and for specific reasons, like at “a rave, a concert, or any place where you want to be energized for the whole day.”
It is because of this very characteristic that Four Lokos are so dangerous. Consumers do not feel the effects of inebriation as early as they normally would because the caffeine gives them a false sense of alertness. This causes them to continue drinking and to take risks that they would not take if they had a true sense of their inebriation.
But drinkers seem to recognize this in agreeing that Four Lokos are not for the casual drinker. “Certain people should never attempt to venture into the depths of Four Lokos,” stated one fraternity member. Gonzalez added, “This isn’t something that you could just have with dinner.”
The drink’s producer, Phusion Projects, maintains that they do everything they can to ensure only appropriately-aged drinkers consume the drink safely. In a statement given to ABC News, the company emphasized the seven different warnings on the can about the alcohol content and the need to have an ID for purchase.
For now, sellers of Four Loko can probably look forward to more success because, according to one fraternity member, “Four Loko is a very social drink. If it’s your first experience drinking, it’s because someone told you about it.”