In the wake of recent teen deaths involving the consumption of Four Loko, Utah and several other states have banned the sale of the dangerous caffeine-laden alcoholic beverage.
Four Loko, nicknamed “blackout in a can,” is sold in 24-ounce cans, contains 12 percent alcohol and caffeine equal to several cups of coffee. The drink, manufactured by Chicago-based Phusion Projects, is linked to the hospitalization of nine college students.
Utah’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control has reviewed Four Loko and decided to prohibit state-run and private retailers from selling the popular party drink. Other states including Michigan, Oklahoma, New York, and Washington have also banned the product. North Carolina, Rhode Island, and Kansas also considered bans before the FDA finally ordered producers of Four Loko and other alcohol energy drinks to re-formulate or their products would be banned from the market.
What’s the Big Deal?
Combining alcohol with caffeine is nothing new. Red Bull and vodka, rum and coke, or Irish cream and coffee are already popular alcoholic drinks that contain caffeine – the difference being that these ingredients are all sold separately and mixed by consumers after purchase.
According to experts, the high concentrations of alcohol and caffeine as formulated in Four Loko make it particularly dangerous for consumers.
The problems with the current formula for Four Loko are two-fold: first, the caffeine added to the beverage tricks drinkers into feeling that they aren’t actually drunk. In an interview given to CNN, Dr. Mary Claire O’Brien, an associate professor of emergency medicine at Wake Forest University’s medical school in North Carolina, says that when large doses of caffeine and alcohol are combined, it produces a “wide-awake drunk.” This inevitably deceives people into thinking that they are fit to drive when they are actually impaired.
Second, Dr. O’Brien also says that caffeine is known to metabolize quicker in the blood stream than alcohol and therefore a drinker is “left with much more alcohol than he would have been able to tolerate – and that leads to blackouts.”
Because of the tendency for users to not to feel the effects of Four Loko, it’s no wonder Utah has decided to ban the product, albeit hoping to lessen the hundreds of minor in possession charges, drunk-driving arrests, accidents and fatalities that occur in the state each year.
Related Story: Banning Four Loko: First Utah, then…, The Salt Lake Tribune