It’s time for the madness to stop. The publicity surrounding the infamous drink known as Four Loko is more nauseating than actually consuming a tall can of the sugary beverage.
I get it. Mixing alcohol with caffeine is dangerous, blah, blah, blah. And while I personally find the beverage to be disgusting and unworthy of the three dollars it costs, there are plenty of other students for whom its “blackout in a can” quality is a key motivator in purchasing it. Herein lies the problem. The controversy should not be about the drink’s caffeine-to-alcohol ratio. Rather, the real issue is our drinking culture in America provides a market that makes Four Loko fly off the shelves.
The first qualm I have with Four Loko is that there is no way to consume it in moderation. With an alcohol content equal to four cans of beer, it is essentially a binge drink in a can. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drink as consuming 4-5 drinks in the span of two hours depending on if you’re a woman or a man. So even if you slowly sip the 23.5-ounce can for two hours, you’re technically binge drinking or coming very close to it.
What is more likely, however, is you’ll down the can within an hour at most before moving on to another drink, perhaps even another Four Loko if you have a high tolerance or a death wish. This is exactly how the drink is intended to be consumed. Despite the misspelling of the Spanish word for crazy or “loco,” there is no mistaking that this drink is meant for those who want to rage. In other words, no one sits down after a long day at work and says to himself, “I think I’ll relax at dinner with a nice glass of aged Four Loko.”
Although this characteristic of the drink scares parents and the FDA alike, the industry is not to blame. Phusion Projects did not invent the concept of drinking until you (almost?) blackout. They simply identified and exploited an existing market of young adults who finds it fun to drink to maximum inebriation.
If you think about who is consuming Four Loko, it’s the same kids who are mixing Fleischman’s with whatever the vending machines in Sellery have in stock. Either that or it’s the crowd who recently turned 21 and still finds drinking to excess new and exciting. This happens because we delay the age at which one can drink legally to such an absurd point in one’s life. This age group is socialized to believe that drinking must be special or taboo if they have to wait so long to taste their first sip of beer (in theory). For them, drinking Four Loko is no different than throwing a party in high school while the ‘rents are away. It’s a way to rebel and, more importantly, a way to gain notoriety among peers.
As long as we attach this stigma to alcohol – that it cannot be consumed responsibly by persons under the age of 21 – we will continue to inadvertently promote binge drinking among our youth. Banning Four Loko and drinks like it will not fix a problem that is so deeply embedded in our culture. While the company recently opted to remove the caffeine from Four Loko for fear of being banned by the FDA, there is nothing to stop people from buying caffeine and alcohol separately with the intention of mixing the two. It’s called a J?gerbomb.
If we really want to stop people from consuming dangerous drinks like Four Loko, we need to make such drinks unattractive to them. Banning them will only increase their appeal. Remember Prohibition? Me neither. I wasn’t alive. But I do know how to read a history book and outlawing a certain drink will do nothing to deter people from partaking in dangerous activities.
Instead we need to get to the root of the problem and change the culture surrounding drinking in America. We have to stop putting the beer can on a pedestal by making people wait until they have been out of high school for three years to drink. Only then will youngsters stop livin’ la vida loca.
Holly Hartung (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a junior majoring in journalism and communication arts.