The FDA Ban on Four Loko – Why The FDA Isn’t Going To Take Your Rum And Coke Away

It’s been exactly a week since my last article on Four Loko (“Wilmington Takes A Harder Look At Four Loko”) and in that time a lot has changed. In fact, Four Loko went from being a potential menace (especially if you drink more than one) and college party favorite to a banned drink. How exactly did this happen so fast?

Well, actually, it didn’t happen that fast. According to Discover Magazine (in 2009) the FDA requested proof that the caffeinated alcohol drinks were safe back in 2009. The list of companies notified to look into their products’ safety is here. State regulators did not wait for the FDA – Michigan, New York, and Utah among other states banned the sale of Four Loko in their state before the FDA sent their warning letter on November 17.

Four Loko can cause violent behavior in students due to its high powered blend of alcohol and caffeine.

Students that drink Four Loko are more likely to engage in dangerous behavior, according to Federal officials.

These facts, and other developments (hospitalizations of binge drinking students, a study that showed that caffeinated alcohol drinks cause more sexual violence and more dangerous behavior in general) led to a not so rosy outlook for Four Loko and its kind. In fact, on Nov. 16 Phusion Products, the makers of Four Loko, presumably anticipating the FDA’s letter, announced they were removing caffeine, guarana, and taurine from their drinks.

The reaction to this was somewhat predictable.  Philly Post writer Jeff Billman in his article “Leave Four Loko Alone” said:

“But: Do you really think that banning Four Loko, or anything else for that matter, is going to stop kids from figuring out that if they chug a Red Bull in between sessions of Coors Light or Jose Cuervo or whatever cheap vodka comes in plastic jugs and in bulk from the BJ’s across the state line in Delaware, they’ll be able to stay awake longer and, consequently, drink more? I had that figured out well before the advent of Four Loko, and I can assure you that, in this, the information age, the kids today are much better informed on these things than I was as a college frosh in 1997. If I want a particularly late-night bender—a rarer and rare occurrence these days—downing one of those five-hour energy shots does the trick. Oh, and those are totally legal. So is downing one, and following it with six shots of Jack Daniel’s.”

Er, yes, that is true.  But comparing a five-hour energy shot with Four Loko is unfair.  After all, a five-hour energy shot does not contain alcohol.  Nor is it packaged with alcohol, and my guess would be if the packaging expressed that it works well with six shots of Jack Daniel’s that they would be receiving a letter from the FDA as well.  Vague comparisons of dissimilar products aren’t going to get you very far.

Meanwhile, over at the Miami New Times, you could hear Kyle Munzenrieder make the “nanny state” argument:

“In a treacherous blow to the personal freedoms of Americans and Capitalism itself the FDA is expected to ban the sale of caffeinated alcohol drinks as soon as next week. Yes, alcohol and caffeine, two perfectly legal and widely available substances will not be allowed to be sold together in one can. The move comes after in the midst of the Four Loko craze.”

You may have a point when you make that argument (I wouldn’t say the ban is necessarily a good or bad thing) but it’s not really fair to make that argument in this manner:

“Researchers are concerned that caffeine counterbalances some of the effects of alcohol and may lead drinkers to believer they are less drunk then they are. That’s a valid point, yet the mixing of the two substances isn’t going away any time soon. While the pre-made mixtures will apparently now be banned, it’s unlikely Americans will stop drinking these find mixtures of caffeine and booze:

Rum and Coke
Vodka and Redbull
Irish Coffee
Espresso martinis
Shots followed by a Five Hour Energy chaser
Cafecito and Cisco”

Yes, Americans are still going to drink rum and coke, but no, that’s not really the same thing. Irish coffee has not been the scourge of college campuses lately. Nor have rum and cokes. Why is that? Because they contain vastly different quantities of caffeine and alcohol. Make a 6.5 oz rum and coke with 40% ABV rum and your drink will contain 0.6 oz of alcohol and 14.5 mg of caffeine. Make a version of it more generously sized and you are still nowhere near Four Loko. This recipe calls for 4 oz of Bacardi white rum (37.5% ABV) and 8 oz of Coca Cola (35 mg of caffeine in a 12 oz can). This drink will probably cost you more at the bar, and still only have 23.3 mg of caffeine and 1.5 oz of alcohol (4 oz x .375). This is compared to Four Loko, which has one serving size (23.5 oz) and contains 156 mg of caffeine and 2.82 oz of alcohol. Even two of those hefty rum and cokes wouldn’t have as much caffeine as a Four Loko. I don’t that anyone ever binges on Irish Coffees, but if you are drinking an average sized Irish Coffee (a 7.5 oz serving, plus cream on top) you’re only going to consume about 0.6 oz of alcohol and 90 mg of caffeine. Again, just not the same.

Four Loko does not stack up against other mixed drinks in terms of caffeine - it stacks over.

Four Loko, towering over the competition.

The other problem in Four Loko land (as we’ve pointed out before) is the serving size. It’s a carbonated beverage so once you crack open the can, you’re more or less forced to consume/get rid of it or have it go flat. Unlike vodka (which Arrested Development’s Lindsay Bluth memorably and mistakenly believed “goes bad once it’s opened”) Four Loko cannot really be consumed in moderation. Fortunately we can cap our whiskey, rum, and vodka bottles. In fact, that’s part of the design – if vodka was packaged to “go bad” within a few hours, you can bet it wouldn’t be on the market.

Was the ban the smartest thing ever? That seems to me to be another debate. It also seems to me that comparing a mixed drink like a rum and coke to Four Loko does not have a place in that debate. After all, Four Loko is a real product on a real shelf – nobody is selling rum and cokes in a can. The FDA’s job is to regulate real products. And again, if they did sell rum and coke in a can, that would probably have not caught the FDA’s attention – if the can was 12 oz instead of 23.5. Caffeine and alcohol together are not necessarily going to send you to the hospital or make you have a violent freak out, but moderation when consuming the two simultaneously is more even important than when consuming one or the other separately. Phusion Products ended up creating a product that fell a little far outside the lines of moderation. Four Loko is just oversized in almost every sense (except price, which Cord Jefferson thinks may’ve played a role in its being banned). My guess is that if Phusion Products had not tried to create the craziest thing on the market, their product would probably still be on the market.

Post by Robyn Schelenz. Have any thoughts, comments, or disagreements you wish to share? Send me an email over at robyn at and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

Headline photo by Ted S. Warren/Associated Press.

Wilmington Takes A Harder Look At Four Loko

Four Loko, the high alcohol high energy drink, has received a lot of attention lately (including from us – see “Alcoholic Energy Drinks More Than Most Can Handle” for more).  There has been some new discussion locally as North Carolina contemplates doing what New York state recently did by banning the drink. At the moment Governor Perdue has asked manufacturers to voluntarily stop selling alcoholic energy drinks in the state.

The University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Substance Abuse and Prevention Office notes that most of the kids on campus caught drinking have been drinking Four Loko (WECT 6).  The students of the school interviewed for the article made clear that it is potent stuff.  It does, after all, have a 12% alcohol content and enough stimulants in it to mask normal feelings of drunkenness.  But does that warrant a ban?

Why Ban Four Loko?

There are a few arguments on this.  Some have accused Four Loko of intentionally marketing to younger people.  The design on the cans is bright and colorful and looks more or less like any other energy drink you would buy.  By virtue of this association it seems that kids underestimate the punch that each can packs. Which leads us to the second point – the can is almost 24 ounces, twice as large as a beer.  The alcohol content is about three times that of a light beer.  Basically, finish one can of Four Loko (which is only a few dollars – the price is one of its selling points) and you’ll have had the equivalent of a six pack, and jitters on top of that.  You will most likely be drunk, or very drunk. And not only will you have consumed a six pack, you will also have simultaneously consumed the equivalent of two Red Bulls. Why’s that? Because one 8.3 oz can of Red Bull only has 76 mg of caffeine in it…while Four Loko has 156 mg of caffeine.

Four Loko, the latest popular target for college partiers and alcohol testing alike.

Four Loko

Designed For Drinking

That Four Loko is packaged in such a manner is part of the problem.  It is not so much the eye-catching design, but the size of the can that presents the issue (in my mind anyway).  Once you open the can, you’re going to have to drink it or throw it out – it’s a carbonated beverage and will go flat like a soda does if left to sit.  You’re not purchasing a can of the drink to have as an apéritif over a few days.  You’re drinking the whole thing once it’s opened, and as pointed out above, that will definitely make you drunk.  It’s immoderation by design.

The Stimulants

Then you have the fact that the beverage contains a number of stimulants.  Those stimulants are caffeine, taurine, and guarana.  When they mix with alcohol (in this drink and in many others, including cocktails) they can have unexpected effects.  As our previous blog noted, people drinking an alcoholic energy drink believe their motor coordination is better than those who do not have those ingredients in their drink.  If you do not feel as drunk as you are, you may be inclined to continue drinking, and the signals from your body that say you’ve had enough may not be clearly perceived.  This is the aspect of alcoholic energy drinks that leads to hospitalization.  But there are other negative effects too.

One of the stimulants in Four Loko.

Guarana, one of the stimulants in Four Loko.

A study at Wake Forest University in 2006 found that those who mix energy drinks with alcohol are more likely to sexually assault or be sexually assaulted, more likely to get in a car with a drunk driver, and more likely to require medical treatment (see the Daily Collegian for more info).  In other words it’s much more likely that destructive and risk-taking behaviors will be pursued. Aimee Hourigan of the UNCW Substance Abuse and Prevention Office in an interview with WWAY3 noted that “You’re more likely to get into a fight and have other negative consequences related because your body’s just not equipped to handle that much alcohol and stimulant at the same time.”

An Experiment

The actual effect of drinking a Four Loko was measured recently by a local Raleigh woman. Drinking four ounces every half a hour (a pace probably considered slow by college standards), she measured her blood pressure and pulse through the process.  When she started out her blood pressure was 116 over 64; in 4 ounces’ time it went up to 192 over 36 and her heart was racing at 154 beats per minute.  The woman, a registered nurse, had her verdict.  Feeling sick after 8 ounces, she stopped, and told WALB10 news that “if you’re not careful, you could kill yourself with this.”

A Matter of Taste

Finally, in terms of taste, people will disagree, but it seems clear that the drink wasn’t made for delicate meal pairings.  In comes in a number of sugary, fruit like flavors that make it more appealing.  All these factors considered, it’s hard to see that it’s anything other than a product made for binge drinking.

A Question of Law

Does this mean that a ban is required?  It remains to be seen if this is so.  The makers of Four Loko, Phusion Projects, recently published an open letter addressing federal and state inquiry into their beverage.  They do sell a version of the drink that contains less alcohol; it’s foreseeable that they may soon only be allowed to sell that version.  The popularity of the drink on college campuses is a problem somewhat larger than themselves – college binge drinking is always a problem, especially as it often occurs in crowded situations with many inexperienced if not underage drinkers.  Four Loko may be a little too potent for that setting, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t potentially be enjoyed elsewhere.

As Wilmington and North Carolina in general examine this issue, let us know what you think by leaving comments or sending us an email at cs at  We’d love to hear from you (and remember, it’s easy to keep tabs on your BAC with a disposable and portable alcohol test kit).

For more info, including info on the FDA’s inquiry into alcoholic energy drinks, check out Time’s Healthland.

Headline picture by Taggart, originally for the New York Daily News.

Alcoholic Energy Drinks More Than Most Can Handle

If you’re drinking in moderation, you may think to yourself that you are just having “a drink to relax.” Or having a drink with dinner. Either way, it’s doubtful you would reach over for any of the alcoholic energy drinks currently on the market, and as of this month banned at Ramapo College in New Jersey.

The cause of the ban? 23 alcohol related hospitalizations (as of October 1) since school started. A high number and out of the ordinary for Ramapo, they found that a few of the students were in the hospital as a result of an “energy alcohol drink” called Four Loko.

Four Loko is part of a trend of alcoholic drinks known in some spheres as alcopops (and that tells you something right there doesn’t it!). Among the first of the alcopops was Sparks, a drink produced by Miller Brewing Company. Sparks varied from between 6-8% alcohol zanaflexhome content and aside from that contained a great deal of caffeine, taurine, ginseng and guarana along with syrupy, fruity flavors. Not exactly something that will be served to you by a sommelier, Sparks became popular among college students and young professionals as a way of staying alert while binge drinking. This got it branded as a health hazard, as it dulled the user’s awareness of their state (and increased dehydration) and eventually MillerCoors redeveloped it and removed the caffeine. These days Sparks is a shadow of its former self, and no longer retains the same stimulants (or popularity) that it once had.

This is not the case for Four Loko. As demonstrated by the AP, Four Loko is quite potent – the alcohol content is 12%, and it contains the staples of other non-alcoholic energy drinks: caffeine, taurine, and guarana. It has been called “liquid cocaine,” is extremely cheap, and can lead to blackouts unexpectedly quickly (see the Reading Eagle for more). It also doesn’t help that its twice the size of a can of beer at almost 24 ounces, and generally only 2 to 3 dollars.

If increased hospitalization rates and unexpected blackouts (as well as a Facebook group 67000 strong dedicated to this issue) have not yet convinced you this drink might be trouble, consider that drinking 1 can is equivalent to drinking 4 beers. That’s a lot of power in one can – and it’s masked by its deceptive size (all that in just one can?), taste (generally some fruity flavor) and caffeine. You’ll think you’re okay, but you’ll be much drunker than you think. A study in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research cited by Time found that people who drink energy alcohol drinks think their motor coordination is better than those who do not have energy supplements in their drinks, a combination that can obviously be dangerous. Perception versus reality has always been a problem with alcohol (that’s why we sell alcohol test kits !) but more so with these drinks. Let’s not forget caffeine is a drug too!

In sum, Four Loko and the like are not your average alcoholic beverages – cheaper, more sugary, and potentially more likely to provide a nasty hangover (or worse). Exercise caution and remember that a mixture of caffeine and alcohol is not a great combination.

Picture of Sparks (pre-reformulation) uncredited via Times Union Blog

Teen Drinking

As in the case of many other teen social behaviors, parents seem to learn about teen drinking when it comes to their children once it’s already gone on. Kids can be drinking and the next day you might never know. You may only find out about your child’s alcohol habit once you find a wine bottle missing, or a gin bottle filled not with its actual contents, but with water. It is important then to be vigilant and to teach children about the dangers of drinking, particularly underage drinking.

Drinking And Teen Drinking Statistics

The stats about American drinking show us why this is so. In 2008, a federally funded “Monitoring the Future” study showed that 43.1% of 12th graders had consumed at least one drink in the month before they were surveyed. For 8th graders, it was 15.9%, and 10th graders drank at a rate of 28.8%. Considering that many kids are learning to drive or driving in 10th grade, the percentage of underage drinking that occurs is all the more alarming. 14.4% of 10th graders describe themselves as having been drunk in the past month; 27.6% of 12th graders did the same (and 5.4% of 8th graders).

Alcohol Use In Teens

% of Teens Between 12-20 Reporting Past Month Binge Alcohol Use, by State: 2003 and 2004

Parental Control And Its Positive Effects

A study conducted by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) proved that parental monitoring can reduce high school drinking. And this was also linked with a lower proportion of drinking in college. In the study that involved 1200 college students questions were asked about college life and the level of teen drinking. Additional information was also collected about the level of control that was exercised by parents in school. The connection between parental supervision and relatively lower levels of drinking were obvious irrespective of gender, race or religion.

Facts about Teen Drinking that Parents need to Know

More than 1400 college students in the age group of 18-24 die from alcohol related injuries including motor crashes. The figures for injury are as high as 500,000. About 70,000 college students a year become a victim of sexual abuse in the same age group due to the effect of alcohol and 400,000 suffer the consequences of unsafe sex. A quarter of teens have academic problems due to teen drinking. About 5 percent of these teen drinking issues end up involving the police.

How can Parents Manage Teen Drinking?

The first thing that parents need to do when they are combating teen drinking is to be aware of the signs. Sudden lower grades, irritability, lack of interest in socializing, campus trouble and mood swings are some signs that parents need to be aware of. It is important that parents do not get into a blame game or a witch hunt to try and find the reasons for teen drinking. But there are ways to combat a teen drinking problem. If your teen has an alcohol problem, you can use an alcohol test to see if they have been drinking (they work just like a breathalyzer, but are a lot cheaper). Some steps that parents can take are listed here:

– Speak to the Dean or the high school/college counselor.
– Speak to the teen about the drinking and let them know that you are aware of the issue and are supportive of them, but not the drinking.
– Speak to their friends and understand the situation that they are in and how critical the teen drinking is.
– It is never too late to start the process of open communication. Come out clean with your teen about the drinking issue and other things if you have not been communicating
– At all times remember that the teen drinking is a reaction due to some issue that your teen may be having – with depression, or peer pressure, or alienation. Your teen is growing up and has different social needs. Understand those and think of when you were a teen before you react to the situation.

Article by Anne Hamilton

The National Beverages of World Cup Teams

The 2010 FIFA World Cup is being held in South Africa and the country is gearing up to host not only a soccer tournament but a diverse meeting of cultures. Everyone will be supporting their own country and bringing along with them not only flags, jerseys, and silly wigs, but perhaps even their signature alcohols.

While in excess alcohol is harmful, in moderation it is not. In fact there is proof that a certain, minimal amount of alcohol consumption on a daily basis is something that may actually be beneficial for the heart. Alcohol has also long been part of cultures all over the world, and this is why almost every country has an alcoholic beverage associated with it.  Regardless of which of these drinks you may choose to consume, be sure to have an alcohol test around to help you keep tabs on your own moderation efforts.

Here are some of the national beverages of the countries in the World Cup.

Greece – Ouzo, an anise-flavored aperitif, is a drink descended from older traditional beverages like tsipouro or rakia. Ouzo is a traditional drink that is mixed with water and becomes cloudy white with a faint blue tinge at times. It is served with ice cubes in a small glass. It is a versatile drink that can be consumed straight in the form of shots too. If you are not too fond of the liquorice-like taste of the drink you can mix it with a cola.

Brazil – Caipirinha is the national cocktail liquor of Brazil. It is made from cachaça, sugar and lime. This is a concoction that was not known outside of Brazil much until a few years back. But today it is available in most parts of the world thanks to the availability of good brands of cachaça in various countries. A variation of the cocktail can be made by replacing cachaça with vodka. This variation is called Caipivodka. Another variation made by replacing cachaça with rum is called Caipirissima.

Sake, the national drink of Japan.

Japan – The development of Sake was brought about due to the large availability of rice in this country. In the early days rice was masticated in Japan to create fermentable sugars from starches. The making of sake was associated with religious rites where young virgin women pounded rice to create the delicious drink.

Spain – Patxaran or Pacharán in Spanish is a liqueur that is made from sloe berries soaked in an anise flavored spirit called anisette. A few coffee beans and a vanilla pod are added to the concoction and the liquor is left to brew for a few months. The result is a reddish brown liquid that tastes sweet and has around 25 percent to thirty percent alcohol content.

Italy – Italy is famous for the wine that is brewed here. But it is also known for the aperitif Negroni, a sugary cocktail. This is a blend of vermouth, Campari and gin. It is served on the rocks in a cocktail glass.

Argentina/Uruguay – Drinking mate is like a national ritual in Argentina. Consumed at home and with friends, the concoction is made by seeping dried yerba mate leaves in hot water. The drink is served in a gourd and sipped through a straw. It is nonalcoholic and more similar to tea than anything else.

Chile – Pisco, South American liquor that is distilled from grapes, is a drink that is consumed abundantly in Chile and Peru both. In fact there is a dispute with regards to the legal rights of exporting the drink to other countries.

France – Pastis, the French drink, is a versatile drink that is loved across the world. While most Germans and North Americans may think of beer as the first option for a drink, the French will often order a pastis to relax. A Mediterranean liquor, pastis consists of alcohol, anise, black and white pepper, cardamom, sage, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, sugar and licorice. It has a sharp and sweet taste at the same time.

Mexico – When talking of national drinks, no one can really forget the famous tequila of Mexico. Many people actually have very bad memories of the potent liquor. Distilled from the blue agave plant, the drink has basically two versions that are available today – mixtos and 100 percent agave. Bottled tequila is available in different varieties like blanco or plata, oro, reposado, añejo and extra añejo.

Korea – While Korea has a large list of alcoholic beverages that are specific to the country, Yakju is one that literally means medicinal alcohol. Made from steamed rice, this drink goes through various levels of fermentation.

With the globalization of the world and the fans from all countries coming together in South Africa, you can be sure to find a large variety of interesting and innovative alcohol drinks, wine options, beer brand and liquor concoctions. Make sure that you try them out if you’re fortunate enough to be there but maintain moderation in drinking at all times.

Article by Anne Hamilton

How To Find Out If A Drink Is Spiked

Say you’re a school administrator, watching kids file into the high school for a late night graduation party.  It should be a fun time for all, but usually there’s someone who thinks they can break the rules.  It wasn’t too, too long ago that I graduated high school, and I well remember – people bring alcohol to campus.

So what are you going to do as a school administrator to find out if what you suspect to be alcohol in a student’s water bottle is, in fact, alcohol?  Unless you are planning to consume the beverage yourself there is no cheaper or easier way to find out if a drink contains alcohol than using an AlcoScreen.  On top of that, you can find out if a student has been drinking as well.

Inside this package is the test you need to find out if a drink is spiked!

This is the AlcoScreen, the test you need to find out if a drink is spiked!

When testing individuals, the AlcoScreen will give you a reading of various shades of green/blue to indicate blood alcohol content (BAC).  After 2 minutes you can determine whether BAC is at 0.02%, 0.04%, 0.08%, or 0.30% by the color of the AlcoScreen stick.

When testing drinks, AlcoScreen works differently, but no less accurately.  It gives you a “yes or no” answer as to whether alcohol is in a beverage.  Alcohol in beverages is so concentrated that the AlcoScreen will pick up even the smallest amount of alcohol, every time.  The test strip will turn very, very dark brown or black when indicating that alcohol is in a drink.  If it turns green, the drink may not contain alcohol – Mountain Dew, for example, will turn the strip the color of a 0.08% human reading.  But don’t worry, that doesn’t mean the drink is spiked – it’s the very dark brown/black color you are looking for when testing a drink.

The AlcoScreen is a wonderful tool for school administrators and parents alike.  Depending on your need at the time, it can be turned into a saliva alcohol test equivalent to a breathalyzer, or a neat and effective beverage tester.  For information on bulk discounts, please call Home Health Testing at 910-815-0209.

Click the link to check out our full alcohol test line.