We’re thrilled to have Catharine McGlade, the Associate Dean of Campus Lifeat Wagner College, guest blog about the growing community problem around the misuse/abuse of Four Loko and other caffeinated alcohol malt beverages. She has masters degrees in Counseling and Teaching and is a member of the New York City Consortium on Alcohol and Other Drugs.
What is Four Loko?
Four Loko is an alcoholic energy beverage in a can. Owned by Phusion Projects Inc., this product contains 12% alcohol and comes in a 23.5 ounce can. It is an enhanced alcoholic beverage that contains a combination of alcohol, caffeine and other stimulants. The amount of caffeine in this drink has been known to mask the intoxicating effects of alcohol. And as a result, Four Loko has been described as black-out in a can and legalized liquid cocaine.
What Is the Problem?
Due to the recent abuse and misuse of Four Loko, there is resurgence in dialogue and concern for the growing popularity and dangers of all alcoholic energy beverages with a high content of alcohol and caffeine.
I’ve spoken to health care professionals, higher education professionals, students and parents about this alcoholic beverage, and the main concerns expressed are the following:
- High volume of alcohol and caffeine: One Four Loko equates to six cans of light beer and two cups of coffee.
- Product presentation: Many stores place Four Loko cans alongside non-alcoholic drinks, which can be deceiving at first glance to many teens. Colors on the can also resemble the visual presentation of high caffeine energy drinks.
- The combination and amount of caffeine and alcohol seems to intensify the level and increase the speed of intoxication. Because of the masked effects of intoxication, adolescents and young people are in danger of other high-risk behaviors such as violence, sexual assault and alcohol-related car accidents.
- There have been many emergency room visits related to Four Loko consumption. Ramapo College, University of Rhode Island and Central Washington University have all banned this product from their campuses due to student health-related emergencies.
What Can You Do as Parents?
- Pay attention to alcohol product placement and advertising in your neighborhood and how that could influence your child. Taking a pulse of the latest news trends on these issues help bring about the scope of how alcohol products are being addressed, monitored or even banned. Recent news in New York State indicates that as of Friday, November 19th, Phusion Projects Inchas agreed with the State Liquor Authority to discontinue shipping Four Loko to distributors; furthermore, by December 10th, beer distributors will cease shipping the product to retailers.
- Set expectations early. Staying involved in your child’s life and maintaining a close relationship through the teen years can protect and offset the risk of peer-influence related alcohol use.
- Build their confidence by critically discussing the what and why behind their decisions related to alcohol. Help your child become a critical thinker and educated consumer in a world full of new, exciting, cheap and dangerous products.
- Establish coalitions in your communities to propose and advocate the changes that you want to see. By doing so, it extends the important dialogue from your home to the community, and therefore builds momentum and a stronger network for your concerns to be heard.
- Discuss the dangers of this product as well as alcohol abuse. This is an opportunity to impact our youths social norms and values within the environments that they spend their time: at home, in their neighborhoods, community centers, the mall, stores, school, etc. Even before the decision is made to drink or not to drink, an important question to ask is: What is my teens attitude about drug and alcohol use? Depending on your children’s age and school, you can also ask questions about how the middle school, high school, or college/university is working on the issue of underage and high-risk drinking (staffing, offices dedicated to this, specific resources, prevention programs, policies, etc.)
For more information about teens abusing high caffeine and alcohol products such as Four Loko, I recommend the following articles that helped shape this piece:
Caffeine and Alcohol Drink Is Potent Mix for Young
Blackout in a Can’ to Blame for Post-Party Ailments
Four Loko: Is New Party Brew “Liquid Cocaine?”
Alcohol Marketing and Youth
The Role of Parents in Preventing and Addressing Underage Drinking