Photo: Darby Rose, Flickr
Never heard of Four Loko? Try hitting the nearest college campus. The carbonated drink -- a potent combination of alcohol and caffeine designed several years ago by three college kids -- is available in teen-friendly flavors like Fruit Punch, Lemonade, and Blue Raspberry. Called "caffeinated booze," it may sound like an oxymoron, but it's a bona fide trend -- the Food and Drug Administration lists 30 similar products. It's also been referred to as a "blackout in a can," but for some kids the results are far worse -- they're ending up in the hospital.
Despite the old folk remedy of using coffee to sober up a drunk, the combination of caffeine and alcohol can have a disastrous effect. "When you put all these things together, it's a nightmare," Harris Stratyner, a vice president at the Caron Treatment Center and an addiction specialist, told Good Morning America today. "The caffeine may make you feel like you're not getting drunk as quickly, so you may ingest more." In other words, you don't feel the usual hallmarks of overdoing it -- until you've way, way overdone it. And given how much alcohol each can contains -- around 12 percent, equal to four beers -- this can be potentially deadly. In the past month, more than two dozen college students at Central Washington University and Ramapo College in New Jersey have been hospitalized after drinking Four Loko.
Four Loko's parent company, Phusion Projects, is adamant that its product is intended for adults of legal drinking age, despite the brightly colored packaging and candy-ready flavorings. In a statement to ABC News, the company also suggested the affected students at Central Washington might have mixed the drink with "illicit substances," but ABC reports that police toxicology results show no evidence of drug use.
Underage drinking aside, the question is being raised of whether caffeinated alcohol is safe to drink at any age, and the FDA has released a statement that it intends to investigate the legality of such products. The FDA statement quoted Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, principal deputy commissioner of food and drugs, saying, "The increasing popularity of consumption of caffeinated alcoholic beverages by college students and reports of potential health and safety issues necessitates that we look seriously at the scientific evidence as soon as possible." The chief of police investigating the Ramapo College incident put it more succinctly in the The Record : "The bottom line on the product is it gets you very drunk, very quick."