• August 28, 2015

Four Loko Does Its Job With Efficiency and Economy, Students Say

Four Loko Does Its Job With Efficiency and Economy, Students Say 1

Don Troop

Four college friends in Morgantown, W.Va., toast Four Loko, a caffeinated alcoholic beverage that is popular among students because it is economical and packs a punch.

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close Four Loko Does Its Job With Efficiency and Economy, Students Say 1

Don Troop

Four college friends in Morgantown, W.Va., toast Four Loko, a caffeinated alcoholic beverage that is popular among students because it is economical and packs a punch.

It's Friday night in this steep-hilled college town, and if anyone needs an excuse to party, here are two: In 30 minutes the Mountaineers football team will kick off against the UConn Huskies in East Hartford, Conn., and tonight begins the three-day Halloween weekend.

A few blocks from the West Virginia University campus, young people crowd the aisles of Ashebrooke Liquor Outlet, an airy shop that is popular among students. One rack in the chilled-beverage cooler is nearly empty, the one that is usually filled with 23.5-ounce cans of Four Loko, a fruity malt beverage that combines the caffeine of two cups of coffee with the buzz factor of four to six beers.

"That's what everyone's buying these days," says a liquor store employee, "Loko and Burnett's vodka," a line of distilled spirits that are commonly mixed with nonalcoholic energy drinks like Red Bull and Monster to create fruity cocktails with a stimulating kick.

Four Loko's name comes from its four primary ingredients—alcohol (12 percent by volume), caffeine, taurine, and guarana. Although it is among dozens of caffeinated alcoholic drinks on the market, Four Loko has come to symbolize the dangers of such beverages because of its role in binge-drinking incidents this fall involving students at New Jersey's Ramapo College and at Central Washington University. Ramapo and Central Washington have banned Four Loko from their campuses, and several other colleges have sent urgent e-mail messages advising students not to drink it. But whether Four Loko is really "blackout in a can" or just the highest-profile social lubricant of the moment is unclear.

Just uphill from Ashebrooke Liquor Outlet, four young men stand on a porch sipping cans of Four Loko—fruit punch and cranberry-lemonade. All are upperclassmen except for one, Philip Donnachie, who graduated in May. He says most Four Loko drinkers he knows like to guzzle a can of it at home before meeting up with friends, a custom that researchers in the field call "predrinking."

"Everyone that's going to go out for the night, they're going to start with a Four Loko first," Mr. Donnachie says, adding that he generally switches to beer.

A student named Tony says he paid $5.28 at Ashebrooke for two Lokos—a bargain whether the goal is to get tipsy or flat-out drunk. Before the drink became infamous, he says, he would see students bring cans of it into classrooms. "The teachers didn't know what it was," Tony says, and if they asked, the student would casually reply, "It's an energy drink."

Farther uphill, on the sidewalk along Grant Avenue, the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz carries a Loko—watermelon flavor, judging by its color. Down the block a keg party spills out onto the front porch, where guests sprawl on a sofa and flick cigarette ashes over the railing. No one here is drinking Four Loko, but most are eager to talk about the product because they've heard that it could be banned by the federal government as a result of the student illnesses.

Research Gap

That's not likely to happen anytime soon, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

"The FDA's decision regarding the regulatory status of caffeine added to various alcoholic beverages will be a high priority for the agency," Michael L. Herndon, an FDA spokesman, wrote in an e-mail message. "However, a decision regarding the use of caffeine in alcoholic beverages could take some time." The FDA does not consider such drinks to be "generally recognized as safe." A year ago the agency gave 27 manufacturers 30 days to provide evidence to the contrary, if it existed. Only 19 of the companies have responded.

Dennis L. Thombs is chairman of the department of social and behavioral sciences at the University of North Texas Health Science Center, in Fort Worth. He knows a great deal about the drinking habits of young people.

Last year he was the lead author on a paper submitted to the journal Addictive Behaviors that described his team's study of bar patrons' consumption of energy drinks and alcohol in the college town of Gainesville, Fla. After interviewing 802 patrons and testing their blood-alcohol content, Mr. Thombs and his fellow researchers concluded that energy drinks' labels should clearly describe the ingredients, their amounts, and the potential risks involved in using the products.

But Mr. Thombs says the government should have more data before it decides what to do about alcoholic energy drinks.

"There's still a big gap in this research," he says. "We need to get better pharmacological measures in natural drinking environments" like bars.

He says he has submitted a grant application to the National Institutes of Health in hopes of doing just that.

'Liquid Crack'

Back at the keg party in Morgantown, a student wearing Freddy Krueger's brown fedora and razor-blade glove calls Four Loko "liquid crack" and says he prefers not to buy it for his underage friends. "I'll buy them something else," he says, "but not Four Loko."

Dipsy from the Teletubbies says the people abusing Four Loko are younger students, mostly 17- and 18-year-olds. He calls the students who became ill at Ramapo and Central Washington "a bunch of kids that don't know how to drink."

Two freshmen at the party, Gabrielle and Meredith, appear to confirm that assertion.

"I like Four Loko because it's cheap and it gets me drunk," says Gabrielle, 19, who seems well on her way to getting drunk tonight, Four Loko or not. "Especially for concerts. I drink two Four Lokos before going, and then I don't have to spend $14 on a couple drinks at the stadium."

Meredith, 18 and equally intoxicated, says that although she drinks Four Loko, she favors a ban. "They're 600 calories, and they're gross."

An interview with Alex, a 19-year-old student at a religiously affiliated college in the Pacific Northwest, suggests one reason that the drink might be popular among a younger crowd. In his state and many others, the laws that govern the sale of Four Loko and beer are less stringent than those for hard liquor.

That eases the hassle for older friends who buy for Alex. These days that's not a concern, though. He stopped drinking Four Loko because of how it made him feel the next day.

"Every time I drank it I got, like, a blackout," says Alex. "Now I usually just drink beer."


1. cmletamendi - November 02, 2010 at 08:48 am

We all know that stimulants, such as coffee and energy drinks cause alertness, increased blood pressure and heart rate, etc. Depressants, such as alcohol, cause the reverse. Upon mixing alcohol (a depressant) with caffine (a stimulant); do our bodies look at us at tell us "Ok, what do you want me to do?" It can't possibly be healthy at all. I was unaware that this product had 600 calories, it's probably all in sugars. I wonder if a study can be done sometime in the near future on how these drinks in particular affect the pancreas functions and the liver... I've never had the drink, and don't plan on trying it either. The cheapest alternative to drinking $14 martinis is not having them at all.

C.M. Letamendi, MBA

2. washingtonwarrior - November 02, 2010 at 09:34 am

I'm not sure how the FDA could ban drinks like Four Loko and allow Americans to smoke cigarettes. Money, I would assume...

3. citizenship - November 02, 2010 at 11:28 am

I don't know of anyone who has ever smoked themselves into a drunken stupor so severe that that they exceeded a blood-alcohol reading of 0.34. One of the CWU students reached that level and was in critical condition when reached. Immediately given life support treatment, she had to be airlifted to a critical care hospital about eighty miles away at night in dangerous flying conditions through a mountain pass. She wasn't released from the hospital for at least three days.

Impaired driving in some states is reached at 0.08 or lower. Toxic alcohol poisoning is reached around .30

4. welldeanda - November 02, 2010 at 01:22 pm

@ Washingtonwarrior, I realize that cigarettes are harmful and should be banned, but you shouldn't equate them with Fourloko. Crack, meth, or 40 oz malt liquor would be better comparisons. Like Crack, distributed primarily in the Ghettos of major city, the distributors, marketing team, and creators of this lethal product have targeted a very specific population of our country. Crack consumption was targeted to inner city blank and hispanics-Loko is targeted to the high-school and college aged youth of America, targeted to them and with the ability to produce the same devastating results-mass addictions.

5. anonscribe - November 02, 2010 at 02:27 pm

Four Loko is bad in every conceivable way. When people mix their vodka/red bulls, they usually put 1-2 shots for a can. 1 Four Loko has 5 drinks in it, and it's only 24oz (half the volume of a 40 for the same alcohol). IMHO, a 120-pound female freshman would already be drunk after a 4 loko. That's bad news if it's used as "predrinking."

6. navydad - November 02, 2010 at 03:42 pm

Please explain to me how it makes sense that this stuff is legal and marijuana isn't.

7. anonscribe - November 02, 2010 at 04:47 pm

It doesn't.

And just wait for 5 Loko Green if CA passes legalization today.

8. hamilton1098 - November 02, 2010 at 07:14 pm

A 120 pound woman who drinks a can of Four Loko will have a BAC of approximately 0.21 blood alcohol concentration (almost 3 times the legal limit). Definitely "blackout" zone. Two cans could put her in a coma...or worse.

9. freedomfighter - November 02, 2010 at 08:46 pm

Did anyone ever stop and ask themselves, "whatever happened to self control and personal responsibility?". You people are so out of touch with reality, its not even funny. If you think that by outlawing this drink that it will cause any type of deterrent, then you are sadly mistaken. Another substitute is always right around the corner. Whether college students are drinking 4 loko, jager-bombs, ripping 5 hour energy, snorting adderal, or doing cocaine; its simply an inevitable fact of life. People (especially the college demographic) will always find a way to do what they please (regardless or legality). The notion that you are all really debating is simply how readily available you make this fix. Smoking weed is illegal; and we all know that no one on a college campus would dare do that (insert sarcasm here).

In the end, what it comes down to is personal responsibility. These kids in Washington and Jersey are simply dumb asses. If you are stupid enough to chug 4- 4 loko's, then you should be prepared to deal with the consequences.

And on a side note: Its not 'predrinking' its pregaming

Oh and btw: @welldeanda: Your comparison of the crack/ meth epidemic to 4 loko on college campuses is absurd. Lets see, uppers kill about 15,000 people a year; and how many have died from 4 loko? Oh that right, 0.

10. anonscribe - November 03, 2010 at 12:29 pm

freedomfighter - you're not very good at reading, are you?

No one in the comments section seems in favor of banning 4 Loko to me. I'm certainly not. We were just all pointing out how awful it is for students. I said campuses ought to inform students through outreach about the dangers of mixing alcohol and energy drinks. That has nothing to do with banning it, which will do little good, as you point out. Are you opposed to educating young adults so that they can make better choices?

And as a correction: It is, in fact, "predrinking" on most of the campuses I've attended.

And to defend @welldeanda, whom you woefully misunderstood, his/her point didn't have to do with the equivalent danger posed by 4 Loko as compared to crack. It had to do with the targeting of both products at poor people. Finally, I doubt 0 people have died from 4 Loko...just as it's silly to argue that 0 people have died from vodka. A quick internet search pulls up the incident of a driver wasted on 4 Loko blowing a red light and killing an Orlando man and his three children. Alcohol kills. 4 Loko is highly concentrated alcohol that stimulates your body, allowing you to drink more. More booze = greater likelihood of stupidity and death.

11. panacea - November 03, 2010 at 02:01 pm

washingtonwarrior: The FDA lacks regulatory authority to ban nicotine. It can regulate the amount of nicotine, and how it is marketed, but that is all.

Alcohol and caffine are different stories. The FDA can regulate those, and can impose a ban on the mixing of the two.

Freeodomfighter: The FDA does have the regulatory authority to order manufacturers not to make drinks like fourloko. The industry will comply in order to maintain other business interests. Since both are easily obtainable in other forms there will be no black market.

That won't stop some kids from mixing No Doze with alcohol. But it will get more expensive. I really don't think anyone should profit from a product that is so disatrously dangerous as fourloko.

Personal responsibility is one thing. Letting the chips fall where they may is another. We do a very poor job as a society in teaching people to drink responsibly . . . a token effort in ads and that's about it. As a society we glorify alcohol and intoxication, it is comical and "cool", and accepted at all levels of society. Until we accept the COMMUNITY responsibility of educating ourselves, our children, and holding each other accountable for what they do, then personal responsibility is just a cop out and a way of saying, "I don't give a crap of what happens to you as long as I get to do what I want."

12. 22191530 - November 03, 2010 at 03:21 pm

C'mon folks - while this stuff is bad, the talk about blood alcohol content also depends on metabolism and time. Obviously, chugging will be worse (and riskier) than sipping.

13. eryx1959 - November 03, 2010 at 07:13 pm

The new Congress will ensure that Four Loko is available to all. So glad I don't have kids.

14. circuitri - November 03, 2010 at 11:47 pm

"a custom that researchers in the field call predrinking."

It took some SCIENCE to figure out a term, and an incorrect term at that! It's pregaming, guys.

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