Alcohol and Energy Drinks (by

One 23.5 ounce can of the Four Loko alcoholic ...

In 2005, the Drink Four  Brewing Company introduced Four Loko to the American malt beverage market. The name "Four" is derived from the original energy drink's four main ingredients: alcoholcaffeinetaurine, and guarana.  There are three product lines within the Four brand:

  • Four Loko — contains either 6%, 8%, or 12% alcohol by volume (ABV), depending on state regulations, and is packaged in 23.5 oz. cans
  • Poco Loko — contains 8% alcohol by volume (ABV), and is packaged in 16 oz. cans
  • Four Loko in bottles — contains either 6% or 8% alcohol by volume (ABV), and is packaged in 11.2 oz. glass bottles

Original formulations of both beverages were a malt liquor-based, caffeinated alcoholic energy drink with added guarana and taurine. The formulations were developed by three alumni of The Ohio State University: Chris Hunter, Jeff Wright, and Jaisen Freeman.  Almost immediately following the introduction of the drinks, a coalition formed in opposition to the beverage.  Critics suggested that consuming energy drinks with alcohol can be harmful in reducing the perception of alcohol intoxication and/or in leading to increased alcohol or drug consumption.

In 2009, a group of US state attorneys general began active investigations of companies which produced and sold caffeinated alcohol beverages, on the grounds that they were being inappropriately marketed to a teenage audience.  The attorneys general were also concerned that these drinks could pose health risks by masking feelings of intoxication.  Colleges and universities joined the chorus against the beverages in 2010 when they began to see injuries and blackouts related to the drink's use.  The University of Rhode Island banned this product from their campus on November 5, 2010. [sourced via Wikipedia].  Several stores, including Tops Markets, Price Chopper and Wegmans have voluntarily pulled the product from their shelves.

Under mounting pressure, Phusion withdrew Four Loko from the State of New York in November, 2009.  The beverage was banned in Oregon by a 4-1 vote of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission in that same month.  Citing health and safety concerns, Oklahoma joined the movement against the sale of Four Loko.  Michigan soon followed suit.  Id.  According to a statement from the Michigan Liquor Control Commission, "The decision was made in light of several studies regarding alcohol energy drinks, the widespread community concerns aired by substance abuse prevention groups, parent groups and various members of the public, as well as the FDA's decision to further investigate these products." [source]  The New York State Liquor Authority moved for a full  ban as of November 19, 2010. New York state senator Chuck Schumer and New York City councilman James Sanders Jr. have approached the Obama administration to ban Four Loko across the state of New York.  Ohio did not join the stampede.  Instead, they took a wait and see approach.  "We are continuing to monitor the situation," a representative of the Ohio Department of Commerce Division of Liquor Control said. "However, a legislative change would be needed to the statute in order for the superintendent to disapprove a product." [source]

On November 17, 2010 the U.S. FDA Food and Drug Administration dropped the proverbial hammer.  They issued a warning letter to four manufacturers of caffeinated alcohol beverages citing that the caffeine added to their malt alcoholic beverages is an “unsafe food additive” and said that further action, including seizure of their products, may occur under federal law.  It declared that beverages that combine caffeine with alcohol, such as Four energy drinks, are a "public health concern" and can't stay on the market in their current form.  But is this drink really a public menace?

As reported at Alcohol Problem and Solution, a site maintained by Dr. David J. Hanson of the State University of New York, the research does not support the level of outrage generated by the public.  To examine the scientific evidence on the effects of mixing energy drinks and alcohol, a review of the research was conducted. It found

  • virtually no evidence that energy drinks influence any behavioral effects of alcohol,
  • no reliable evidence that energy drinks effect the perceived level of intoxication by drinkers,
  • no evidence that mixing energy drinks and alcohol leads to alcohol or drug abuse or dependence, and
  • no adverse health effects for healthy individuals from combining energy drinks and alcohol.

The review was conducted by researchers at the Utrecht Institute for Pharmaceutical Sciences at Utrect University, Utrecht, The Netherlands, and published in the International Journal of General Medicine.  If you wish to review the research, please consult the following:

  • Greenemeier, L. Why Are Caffeinated Alcoholic Energy Drinks Dangerous? Scientific American, November 9, 2010.
  • Hendrick, B. Dangerous Cocktail: Energy Drinks + Alcohol: Mixing Booze With Energy Drinks Triples Risk of Getting Drunk. WebMD Health News, February 12, 2010.
  • Join Together Staff. Combining Energy Drubks with Alcohol More Dangerous than Drinking Alcohol Alone., April 18, 2011.
  • Jones, S.C., et al. Why (not) alcohol energy drinks? A qualitative study with Australian university students. Drug and Alcohol Review, published online May 24, 2011. DOI: 10.1111/j.1465-3362.2011.00319.x
  • Minderhout, C. Energy Drinks and Alcohol Still a Risky Mix. Food Safety News, May 2, 2011.
  • Park, A. A Bad Mix: Why Alcohol and Energy Drinks Are Dangerous:
    Healthland Time, April 18, 2011.

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