Friday, February 4, 2011

Four Loko - the popular alcoholic energy drink!

Where to start with this one, oh boy!

The alcoholic energy drink produced by Phusion Projects became very popular and the subject of many debates this past year. This drink is called Four Loko and contains 6 or 12 % alcohol by volume in each in 23.5 oz. can. There is another product called Four MaXed that contains 10% alcohol in a 16 oz.can. An average beer has about 4-5% alcohol by volume in 12 oz. After you do a bit of math, 24 oz. of 12% alcohol is about the same amount of alcohol as 5-6 beers.

The primary concern about this drink is its high capacity to incite dangerous situations. We heard numerous stories about young people dying or needing to go to the hospital after drinking Four Loko. The reason it is so dangerous is because of the caffeine. While caffeine alone is a normal part of many Americans' morning pick-me-up, it can be deadly when mixed with alcohol.
I have been unable to find out just how much caffeine is in a can of Four Loko according to the manufacturer, but some quote them as claiming it is as much as a cup of coffee. Some say that it is equivalent to a couple cups of coffee, and a few websites had the number 135 milligrams (mg). However it is unclear whether these figures are referring to the entire can or just 1 serving, I have been unable to find how many servings are in each can, but i assume it is more than 1 since they are nearly 24 oz.
A typical 16 oz. coffee drink from Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks contains approximately 150 mg of caffeine. 16 oz. is equal to 2 cups, so a typical cup of coffee has about 75mg of caffeine. If the number 135 is correct, then there is indeed about 2 cups of coffee worth of caffeine.

Alone neither the amount of alcohol nor caffeine is enough to cause any health problems when consumed over a long enough time period. What gets people into trouble is consuming both at one time, and drinking the entire thing in a short period of time. 
Alcohol at low levels acts an a stimulant and at high levels acts as a depressant; caffeine, on the other hand, acts as a stimulant. Both have significant and opposing neurological and cardiovascular effects. When combined someone will loose their coordination, judgment, and reaction time due to the alcohol; meanwhile the caffeine will make them feel more awake and alert thereby masking the degree of 'drunkenness' often leading to the consumption of more alcohol and/or the illusion that they are capable of driving a vehicle. As you might think, this can get dangerous quite easily. With both alcohol and caffeine on board, someones heart will be told to speed up as well as to slow down, this can become life threatening when consuming even moderate amounts of each as heart failure can occur.
The liver of a healthy adult has the ability to metabolize 1 drink/hour; a drink is defined as 12oz. of beer, 5 0z. of wine, or 1.5 oz. of liquor. When someone drinks more than their liver can handle they begin to feel drunk, and if they drink too much too quickly they can easily become very sick. Alcohol at higher doses can cause alcohol poisoning, coma and death. One entry on Wikipedia states that "drinking a caffeinated alcoholic energy drink is indistinguishable from drinking a couple of glasses of wine followed by a couple of cups of coffee, a typical dinner behavior." However, when someone consumes the volume of a Four Loko they are not likely to do so over 5-6 hours, but closer to 1; they are also not likely to stop at 1 can, or even 2. So imagine drinking 15 beers and 5 cups of coffee in a 2-3 hours, does that sounds like a good idea? I didn't think so, but that is what many people are doing when they drink Four Loko and that is the main cause of the news stories we have been haring about.
The public has become so aware of the negative effects Four Loko can have that some call it a 'Can of Cocaine' and satirical videos have been made. Though these exaggerate and make light of the risks associated with the drink, please do not take the danger lightly.

The drink by itself would not cause illness if only 1 were consumed over a minimum 5 hours. I do not want to say that the product is inherently dangerous or that the company is selling an unsafe product. But when the drink is full of fruity flavor that doesn't taste much like an alcoholic beverage, is sold at low prices so large numbers can be afforded by poor college students, and when someone consumes too many in a short time they put themselves in situations where bad things can happen, and as we have seen, they do. Phusion Projects does have responsible drinking information and resources on their website for those who wish to read it.

Many states have already banned drinks like Four Loko from being sold, if yours has not, please carefully reconsider if you are thinking of buying some. I also understand that Phusion Products may be dropping the caffeine out of the recipe of Four Loko. Until they do, I cannot recommend this product, and if they do, I would still urge consumers to do so carefully. No one under the age of 21 should purchase or drink alcohol, and never drink and drive regardless of what your drink of choice may be.