Four Loko is flying off the shelves faster than ever, as the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board is discouraging its sale.
“First time my girls and I drank Four Lokos, I basically blacked out before we even made it to the bar,” said Andrea Rose, a junior liberal arts major.
“Once in the bar, my roommate notices that I just spit on the floor, so she proceeds to go, ‘OMG, Ang, stop it! You’re spitting on the bar floor!’ and so I go, automatically, ‘Lucky it wasn’t in your face, b—-!’”
Rose said she doesn’t recall any of it.
The standard Four Loko story – getting drunk, doing something stupid and laughing about it the next day – seems to be well-known on Main Campus. Vice President of Student Affairs Theresa Powell recently sent an e-mail to the student body, reminding students “to refrain from consuming” the caffeinated alcoholic beverages.
“As Temple students, your health and safety is our highest concern. That is why I am writing to you today. There are a growing number of reports about the dangers of mixing alcohol and caffeine,” Powell wrote in her e-mail. “Whether the two are bought already mixed in a can or purchased separately, the combination can be dangerous.”
At the start of some students’ weekends, the question of how to get intoxicated quickly and cheaply is answered through the purchase of Joose or Four Loko. At approximately $3 for a 23.5-ounce can with 12 percent alcohol by volume, each drink contains the alcoholic equivalent of a bottle of wine, and its caffeine content allows the drinker to stay up all night and party.
Considering the recent number of students being sent to the hospital after mixing alcohol and caffeine, what can seem like a perfect combination to some young people can be a hazardous mix.
At Central Washington University, nine students were recently sent to the hospital, and a 19-year-old in Philadelphia ended up at Temple University Hospital after he suffered a heart attack – all after drinking Four Lokos.
Officials have responded fast. So far, Temple administration has only issued warnings. At Ramapo College of New Jersey, the drink is now completely banned, and several cities and states are pushing to take the cans off the shelves. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board is discouraging distributors from selling Four Loko.
Sam Thomas, a senior in political science, said he believes it is a personal decision to drink Four Loko not the decision of an outside force, whether it is less safe than other alcoholic beverages or not.
“People smoke even though it is not good for them. Do they e-mail us about that? People do drugs, people text and drive,” Thomas said. “Whether or not it is a dumb choice, it is not the school’s concern.”
Other students agreed. Reactions ranged from “Four Loko is the s—!” to “It’s disgusting – I don’t know why anyone would drink it,” but most said the school or the government should not ban a substance abused by some and not by others, whether it is risky to drink or not.
The question is: What makes the drink so dangerous? According to Four Loko’s parent company, Phusion Projects, Four Loko contains less caffeine than a cup of coffee.
But, according to Dr. Robert McNamara, the chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at TUH, the danger of mixing caffeine and alcohol is not necessarily due to caffeine’s effect on a person, but to its effect on the way people feel alcohol. When stimulated by caffeine, it is more difficult for the body to feel alcohol’s effect as a depressant, therefore many feel less drunk than they are, which can cause over consumption of alcohol.
“Once the caffeine wears off, the depressant effects of alcohol predominates and can lead to serious problems, such as a fall with injury or respiratory depression,” McNamara said. “It is very important to know the exact amount of alcohol one is consuming in order to be safe. These drinks have a very high alcohol content, and one may not realize just how much they are consuming.”
Phusion Projects has argued its beverage has been singled out unfairly. Others are arguing that caffeinated vodkas, such as p.i.n.k., have not been discussed for its mix of caffeine and alcohol and that the underage appeal of certain alcoholic drinks, such as Mike’s Hard Lemonade, have been largely ignored.
Phusion Projects claims it goes beyond federal requirements for its warnings, stating, “If you are 21 or older and choose to drink, please drink responsibly. If you are under 21, respect the law and don’t drink.”
While the FDA investigated the safety of Four Loko last year, it hasn’t led to any action by the federal government.
Yotam Dror can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.