There is a new fad sweeping our youth’s culture today and it goes by the name of Four Loko. The name tells you all you need to know about its effect; Four Loko is an alcoholic beverage which is sold in a 24 ounce can and contains a high alcohol content paired with an equally high amount of caffeine, sugar, guarana and taurine. The phenomenon has taken over Facebook news feeds and has conquered America, but no one seems to be able to decipher this epidemic. It doesn’t taste great,and it’s not great for you. However, it seems as though every weekend more and more young adults, especially college students, are becoming fans of this seemingly dangerous product. Because it contains alcohol, a consumer must be at least 21 to purchase the drink. Regardless of whether or not they can legally purchase it, the drink is obviously targeted towards the younger generations. There are a variety of flavors including Fruit Punch, Orange Crush and Blue Raspberry, as well as a slew of other sweet, fruity flavors which are sure to appeal to both drinkers and non-drinkers. Four Loko cans are decorated with bright colors and almost have no indication of alcoholic content besides the small “Contains Alcohol” label around the lip of the cans. The can lacks Nutritional Facts, but lets the consumers know that it contains 12% alcohol in addition to the caffeine. One of the strongest appeals to Four Loko consumers is that the beverage can be purchased for a mere $3.00 at almost any alcohol distributer, which is a great price for a college student on a budget.
Four Lokos are also turning up in places far from college campuses: low income communities. I asked a local West Chester resident about this topic and he wholeheartedly agreed.
“It [gets you drunk] and you can get it at any local hood spot. That’s why we drink Four Lokos.” Essentially, the reasons the drink appeals to college kids are the same reasons it appeals to anyone else who may find themselves strapped for cash and looking for a good buzz.
Intrigued by all the propaganda surrounding it, I turned to some valued companions to discover some more answers. I mean, beer is cheap, accessible, and is even available in larger quantities than a 24 oz. can. Almost everyone I talked to told me that I had to actually try it in order to “really get it,” but their general consensus was that the caffeine content is what sets this beverage apart from any other choice at your local beer store. Drinking before going to the bar, or “pregaming” as it is more commonly referred to, is a ritual practiced by almost all college students. It’s typically done before going out, in order to prepare oneself for a night of drinking and partying. One of the reasons Four Lokos are so appealing for pregaming is, apparently, the caffeine. Instead of taking shots of liquor and leaving for the bar in a slight stupor, this drink allows you to not only loosen up, but also provides you with the energy needed to keep going all night long. Because you feel so much more awake and alert after drinking the sugar-laced beverage, you also feel more sober and capable of doing things such as drinking more or, God forbid, driving. This is where the dangers begin.
Four Loko drinks have been linked to frequent blackouts, treacherous hangovers, and alcohol poisoning. Any basic Google search on the drink will let you know this. Although any liquor in the right amount can cause these problems, it seems they are much more prevalent after consuming a caffeinated alcoholic drink.
I talked to a West Chester bartender on the subject of energy drinks and he reported that although he doesn’t know much about Four Lokos, what he can say is that “almost every bar in town that has eliminated Red Bull [Energy Drink] from their menu has experienced fewer fights and altercations as a result.” Because Red Bull does not contain alcohol, but only caffeine, it’s safe to say that the caffeine can change a night of drinking into a night of insubordinate blackout behaviors. A similar product called Sparxx recently recalled their beverage and reissued it – without caffeine. Their sales dropped drastically because, without caffeine, it’s not appealing. The combination is both the best and worst part about the product for which there are already rumors of much needed government bans.
Aside from the obvious effects of mixing drugs and alcohol- after all, caffeine is a drug- there are other health concerns associated with not only Four Loko, but all alcoholic energy drinks, including the ever popular concoction of Red Bull and vodka. One can of Four Loko carries a whopping 660 calories and 60 grams of sugar while providing no healthy benefits whatsoever. It’s the absurdly high sugar content which makes it such a health risk. This also increases the chances of getting a hangover from drinking it: because sugar, caffeine, and alcohol all dehydrate you, this leads to drinking more and getting drunk faster.
The alcohol industry’s job is to market their product to the demographic most likely to consume it, in this case targeting 18-24 year old drinkers. Although we can’t stop fads from spreading, we can at least inform potential consumers about possible outcomes. The product is so new that people are intrigued by it and when purchasing alcohol are drawn to the colorful and unfamiliar cans which stick out among the amber colored beers we’re all so accustomed to.
This “liquid cocaine” as it’s been called, doesn’t seem to be a fad which will be going away any time soon. As college students, we will likely have to make the decision at some point whether or not the cheap high is worth the damage.
Molly Morgan is a fifth-year student at West Chester University majoring in English. She can be reached at MM628622@wcupa.edu.