Chicago — Nicknamed "blackout in a can" or "liquid cocaine," alcoholic energy drink Four Loko seems like the perfect cocktail because the combination of alcohol and caffeine can heighten the buzz for those drinking it. The mix can be especially tempting for college students, even more so if they have or are predisposed to alcoholism. Dr. Kimberly Dennis, Medical Director at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center, warns the effects can be seriously damaging to one's health, and even deadly.
Colleges across the country are banning Four Loko after the recent events at Central Washington University, where a group of students "partying" with the drink began to pass out and suffer symptoms of toxicity. Over nine students were rushed to the hospital and more than 50 suffered serious illness.
"This incident shows just how dangerous alcohol and caffeine mixes can be when taken rapidly and in excess. Students and college administrators need to recognize the added risks of products like this," Dr. Dennis said. "One can of Four Loko contains 12 percent alcohol, significantly higher than regular beers, and then it adds high amounts of caffeine on top of that."
Dr. Dennis says the caffeine in Four Loko can suspend the effects of alcohol consumption, allowing a person to consume more than usual without being aware of his or her level of intoxication. When the caffeine wears off the results can be deadly. "The caffeine masks awareness of the effects of the alcohol, even though the blood alcohol level changes with each drink," she warns. "As a result, those drunk on energy drink and alcohol mixes are able to stay awake, even when their bodies would normally shut down from alcohol intoxication, which makes them more prone to health risks, including death." A University of Florida study also showed that Four Loko drinkers are more inclined to attempt to drive after consuming the beverage in excess than those who consumed only alcohol.
Once the caffeine wears off, the full force of the alcohol content will hit the body, with all of the physical ramifications. And with its low price point ($2.50 a can) the drink seems perfectly tailored to the college-age drinker that may not know when enough is enough. "Regulatory bodies need to consider taking this off the market ... college students die from alcohol poisoning regularly in this country using standard products alone," said Dr. Dennis.