In 2010, the caffeinated malt beverage Four Loko caused a stir in the United States when it became associated with a series of dangerous, binge drinking episodes involving teenagers and college students. That the drinks were boozy (12% ABV), sweet, fruity, cheap, readily available at corner and grocery stores, and loaded with stimulants in addition to alcohol made them especially popular with the underage set.
These same characteristics also had the unfortunate effect of making them harmful to some users, leading to a call for Four Loko’s ban among concerned parents, school officials, and politicians. Here are some of the primary reasons for their concern.
4 Reasons Four Loko Was Controversial
- Stimulants in the drink delayed the "feelings of drunkenness," in many cases causing a person to consume more alcohol than he or she might otherwise. In effect, it was argued, Four Loko’s formula made it difficult for users to gauge how dangerously drunk they were becoming. This was thought to be especially true of young, inexperienced drinkers, who are typically less familiar with or less concerned about the signs of severe intoxication.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that drinkers who consume alcohol mixed with caffeinated energy drinks are three times more likely to binge-drink and twice as likely to report being taken advantage of sexually. (Source: The Boston Globe) These people also more likely to engage in drunk driving, risky behavior, and violence, as well as suffer alcohol poisoning, heart attack, coma and death.
- Drinking just two cans of original Four Loko in an hour was considered equivalent to chugging 10-12 beers. Since the human body can’t metabolize alcohol that quickly, the alcohol builds up in your bloodstream and can do crazy things like shut down the respiratory centers of your brain.
- Four Loko cans were brightly colored and arguably marketed in such a way that made them almost indistinguishable from non-alcoholic energy drinks. Many also accused Four Loko’s producer, Phusion, of marketing to an underage audience and promoting binge drinking. U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) is on the record as saying Four Loko was “promoted to a young audience for consumption in multiple servings.” Schumer also called the beverages' frequent placement next to ordinary energy drinks a "highly disturbing" cause of confusion for both legal and illegal consumers.
In the end, Phusion agreed to stop production of caffeinated alcoholic beverages and agreed to alter its advertising and marketing tactics to reduce its products’ appeal to young people.