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FDA Warns on Caffeinated Alcoholic Drinks

by | Latest News

Home Latest News FDA Warns on Caffeinated Alcoholic Drinks

In October 2009, nine underage college students at Central Washington University were hospitalized after drinking Four Lokos, leading to a national controversy about caffeinated alcoholic beverages. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has posed these beverages as a “public health concern” and could be seized under federal law. The FDA has been performing a year-long study, which concluded that the caffeine added to the malt liquors was an “unsafe food additive.” These caffeinated alcoholic beverages mix as much as three cups of coffee with three cans of beer. A 23.5-ounce can of Four Lokos contains either 6 or 12 percent alcohol by volume, depending on state regulations. The caffeine in these beverages mask the effects of alcohol, leaving drinkers unaware of how intoxicated they are. It has been nicknamed “blackout in a can” and produces a “wide-awake drunk.” But since caffeine’s effects wear off faster than alcohol’s, drinkers are left with much more alcohol than they would have been able to tolerate, which leads to blackouts.
Five states- New York, Washington, Utah, Michigan and Oklahoma- already have taken steps to ban these types of drinks. Phusion Projects, which manufactures Four Loko and the maker of under drinks, announced ahead of the FDA that it was dropping caffeine and two other ingredients, guarana and taurine, from the drink. The company stated, “we have repeatedly contended– and still believe, as do many people throughout the country– that the combination of alcohol and caffeine is safe. If it were unsafe, popular drinks like rum and colas or Irish coffees that have been consumed safely and responsibly for years would face the same scrutiny that our products have recently faced.”
Both parties have sound arguments, but I believe that the drink is not at fault, but the consumer. Although these nine students consumed Four Loko, they also mixed it with other drinks. The Four Loko alone was not the problem. Dr. Mary Claire O’Brien, an associate professor of emergency medicine at Wake Forest University’s medical school who has studied the drinks extensively made a strong argument: “If you’re going to drink caffeine, drink it responsibly. If you’re going to drink alcohol, drink it responsibly. But mixing them is dangerous, because you might not know when you’ve had too much.” These drinks continue to follow FDA guidelines, so they are completely legal. I think fingers are being pointed in the wrong direction. These students drank too much, causing them to be hospitalized. Maybe it was the drink, but it was their choice to consume such large amounts.