• Lillie Burke

FDA: Caffeine, alcohol don’t mix Schools, government address health risks of Four Loko, others

Tests, papers and social lives deprive college students of much needed rest, leaving them with a need for energy. To keep the pace, energy drinks packed with caffeine have been popular choices—although not healthy ones. Now there’s an even more serious risk.

Four Loko, with alcohol content added to the revved-up mix, poses a critical danger to consumers, as do similar drinks such as Joose, Moonshot and Core Gravity HG. Four companies have complied with an FDA request to stop producing the alcohol-caffeine combination, and all are expected to be off retail shelves by Dec. 13.

But the caveat is that Four Loko and other drinks will still contain alcohol—it’s the caffeine that’s coming out.

Belmont is also aware of the drink and is taking precautionary steps to keep students safe.

“Since it contains alcohol it is not permitted on campus,” said Maria Allen, coordinator for Student Conduct and Academic Integrity. “Regardless of it being an energy drink, it’s violating our code of conduct.”

Allen has informed staff on campus, such as residence life, about the beverage and what it looks like.

And what Four Loko and other caffeinated malt-liquor based beverages look like is just the beginning of the issue. Not only does one 23.5-ounce can have about as much caffeine

as a six-pack of Diet Coke and as much alcohol as a bottle of wine in some cases, but it’s packaged in cans similar to those of energy drinks. The brightly colored cans that note flavors such as fruit punch and blue raspberry have a visual appeal designed to attract college-age consumers.

The packaging, however, may keep unwary consumers from realizing the drinks have high alcohol content. FDA information shows that the drinks often carry often carry an alcohol by volume, or ABV, of 10 percent or higher. By way of comparison, most beer in the United States has an ABV of 6 percent or lower. Wine typically has an ABV of 10 to 15 percent.

Four Loko has gotten much of the media attention since it was tied to an off-campus party at Central Washington University, resulting in nine freshmen being hospitalized with alcohol poisoning. Schools then began to look to state legislators to ban the caffeinated alcohol drinks, and the effort moved on to the FDA.

The basis of the FDA’s decision to warn manufacturers is that there are no studies to show that caffeine is safe as an additive to an alcoholic beverage. A medical concern that many media reports have addressed is the fact that alcohol is a depressant while caffeine is a stimulant. The competing factors can create a health risk, even if the beverages are consumed in small quantities.

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