What Ever Happened To College Kids Drinking Beer?

Remember the Good Old Days, when young men and women seeking higher education kicked back and relaxed with a beer or two?  Perhaps a ping-pong ball would be tossed, Grand-Prize-Game-style into a delta of red cups.  Someone might have even cracked the cap on a pint of Jack.  Maybe folks even passed the peace pipe.  And mostly, no one went to the hospital.

Those days seem to be fading fast as college kids around the country are sending themselves to the emergency room after bingeing on the newest craze on campus: Caffeinated alcoholic beverages.  

The main culprit seems to be Four Loko, a line of fruit-flavored malt beverages with an ABV of 12% and lots of caffeine that comes in 23.5 ounce cans. Doing some quick math, I figure that each can holds about as much alcohol as a six-pack of Keystone Light.  That’s a lot of kick in one can, and at $2.50 a can, it’s a lot of buzz for your buck.

Four Loko is currently the fourth best-selling alcoholic beverage at 7-Eleven stores and is quickly gaining a reputation for putting younger drinkers in peril.

The issue seems to be the caffeine, which energizes the drinker and delays the feeling of inebriation.  I imagine the fruit flavor makes it easy to down these puppies rather quickly as well.  Put these two things together and it’s a recipe for disaster, as you can be a couple of cans in before you realize you’ve gone too far.

You really look as cool as you think you do, huh?

Earlier this month, Four Loko sent nine Central Washington University students to the hospital with alcohol poisoning.  They all had blood alcohol levels from 0.12 percent to 0.35 percent.  My alma mater, Ramapo College in Northern New Jersey also has had its share of issues with Four Loko, as 23 people have been hospitalized since the start of the Fall semester after messing with Four Loko. That’s a lot of dizzy folks for a school of 6,000.  Ramapo has since banned Four Loko from campus, even for students of legal drinking age.

Don and I don’t condone underage drinking, but that doesn’t stop it from happening all over the place all the time.  At least when I was underage and experimenting with alcohol (basically learning to drink) I stuck mostly to beer, which offers a pretty wide margin of error.  This stuff doesn’t – by the time you think there might be a problem, it’s way too late.  No “have a cheeseburger and gravy fries” solution here, it’s just a stomach pump and a lot of explaining to do.

The US Food and Drug Administration is looking into the safety of caffeinated alcoholic beverages.  Meanwhile the “data” continue to stream into emergency rooms in college towns across America.

I hope this poison gets pulled off the market quickly and college kids can get back to killing their brain cells the old-fashioned way – one kegstand at a time.

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Categories: Beer, Lifestyle


Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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27 Comments on “What Ever Happened To College Kids Drinking Beer?”

  1. Big Tex
    October 26, 2010 at 3:22 pm #

    I’ve been hearing this all over the news since it’s just across the Cascades from me. Crazy stuff. My first exposure to this stuff is another similar beverage called Sparks. Never tasted the stuff, but I’ve seen people buy tons of it at the local minor league hockey games. (Go Tips!) It’s only 6% abv, and comes in electric orange and green colors. Crap, man, the orange stuff looks like the coolant that goes into my truck. Appetizing.

    I don’t get it. Or maybe I do in a round-a-bout way. This seems like another product aimed at debauchery, rather than enjoyment (like say, craft beer!). But then again, I’ve forgotten what it feels like to aim for getting shit-faced.

    • October 26, 2010 at 3:58 pm #

      That stuff sounds like it falls into the Zima camp, Tex. With a lower ABV, a caffeinated drink might not be too bad. It’s the 12% and the 24oz can combo that’s creating a big part of the problem IMO.

  2. Don
    October 26, 2010 at 3:27 pm #

    Well, I think you and I are going to part company yet again on this one little bro. The drink isn’t the problem. Ever had a vodka and red bull? (Different places call it different things, but in Idaho it is called a Spider Bite). They even make specific bar ware for such a drink. If you get rid of the Four Loko, the kids will just do something different, like Spider Bites. Vilifying the drink is a little like saying that guns kill people. A gun never killed anyone…people kill people. So it isn’t the drink’s fault here. What is needed is not banning or some how legislating the drink out of existence, what is needed is education. Back when I was a kid college students were killing themselves with LSD, but there were plenty of kids that partook and are here to tell about it. Some people will always take things to extremes. Just need to let them know the consequences of their actions and then let the chips fall.

    • October 26, 2010 at 3:56 pm #

      While I agree that there are other drinks out there that will get you hammered, none pack the punch of a six-pack in a single can that goes down really, really quickly like this stuff. To use you gun analogy, well-made guns don’t kill people, but ones with a hair just might.

      People are responsible for what they put into their bodies and have to deal with the consequences, but I think this stuff is just too damn sneaky.

      I guess after all the press it’s getting college kids will know to slow down, but right now many don’t expect the consequences are aren’t able to comprehend them until it’s too late.

      • Don
        October 26, 2010 at 4:13 pm #

        It needs to be about education. Have you never had a really yummy 12% beer? Do you down three of them in 10 minutes? Probably not. People do stupid things, and I think college kids have a stupid affinity. Like you said they are really good at it. So put a warning label on the thing or something. Don’t vilify the drink. No one is cramming this stuff down anyone’s throat. And I’ll bet the overwhelming majority of kids drink this stuff without ill effect. (Well, not too much ill effect)

      • October 26, 2010 at 4:34 pm #

        I’ve had several yummy 12% beers, but they taste like boozy beer, not Watermelon (we all know those watermelon beers suck).

        But I still think the number of kids going to the ER because of this stuff shows they don’t understand just how F’d up this stuff will get you.

        Again, with all the news coverage, that’s probably changing. Once they know the deal, things will probably calm down.

        Make sure you talk to your boys about this stuff!

        • Don
          October 26, 2010 at 4:38 pm #

          Will do. Probably a really good point to discuss at dinner this weekend!

  3. October 26, 2010 at 3:35 pm #

    @BigTex the Sparks rep told me they sell it in some states up as high as 10% ABV… per there site they have a 8% ABV drink http://www.sparks.com/

    At any rate kids are gonna get effed up… regardless of what the method… I haven’t done research but these stomach pumping kids in the hospital probably aren’t the brightest crayon in the box… I mean come on 12% alcohol in the 23 ounce variety chugged in seconds followed by another one… #Fail

    These kids were probably sheltered when they were under their parents roof, then went crazy when they found out there was products composed entirely of sugar, this fatty greasy stuff called pizza, genitalia, & alcohol..

    My point being 1) Stupid People are stupid 2) Stupid Parents produce stupid children

    • October 26, 2010 at 4:02 pm #

      I think the problem is that college kids are drinking this stuff like it’s beer or wine coolers, only faster (because it’s sweeter) and without feeling the effects of the alcohol right away (because of the caffeine). I’m sure it’s not the first time they’ve had a drink, but it’s a deceptively different ballgame. One they apparently suck at.

      And what’s this genitalia stuff you’re talking about. Sounds interesting…

      • Big Tex
        October 27, 2010 at 12:32 am #

        Jim, I agree. Stuff like this is dangerous, much like trashcan punch, in that it is sweet and disguises the booze very well. It’s like chugging kool-aid, but 12% abv kool-aid.

        Now, I don’t have any solutions or anything other than education. Caffeine is a legal substance, and so is alcohol. But targeting something that combines the two with the force of law strikes me the wrong way. There goes your nice KBS, dude.

  4. October 26, 2010 at 3:37 pm #

    @Don Couldn’t agree more.. As my sister in law says, somebody’s gotta flip the burgers at McDonald’s. Btw, Love this site.

    • October 26, 2010 at 4:02 pm #

      I seem to recall that was Don flipping those burgers for a while…

      • Don
        October 26, 2010 at 4:08 pm #

        Yes it was. And now look at me! Playing around on the internet at work!

      • October 26, 2010 at 4:35 pm #


        • Don
          October 26, 2010 at 4:38 pm #

          Its probably banned in Idaho. 😉

  5. October 26, 2010 at 4:38 pm #

    I saw empty can on a corner while running Saturday afternoon. All I could think is “This CAN’T be good”

    Kids today are SO LAZY!!! They want everything NOW NOW NOW!!! When I was in college, you know what we drank that had as much alcohol as a six-pack PLUS the caffeine of 3 cups of coffee??? A six-pack + 3 cups of coffee … yeah it took a little longer, but we didn’t have Twittering to get back to, either

    • October 26, 2010 at 5:16 pm #

      Haha! The Good Old Fashioned Way, Randy. I’m all for it!

  6. Nicole
    October 26, 2010 at 9:25 pm #

    Thankfully this is a fad and eventually it will pass and the kids will find some new, stupid thing to do. The title of this made me think of the good ol’ days of college when I got a fake so my friends and I could get craft beer because did you know beer can taste good?!?!

  7. October 28, 2010 at 1:36 pm #

    Gotta give my two cents and go with don. Red Bull and Vodka is still going strong. I wonder how many people been put in the hospital form that drink and yet there is no outcry to get rid of either. What about the outcry over Jager for awhile. Still on the shelves. It’s darwinism at work. The person not the weapon is the correct analogy.

    • Don
      October 29, 2010 at 12:16 pm #

      Thanks John. Always good to be affirmed by yet another voice of reason. BTW I did get your messages, just been extremely busy at work this week. I’ll be in touch later tho.

  8. November 5, 2010 at 7:02 pm #

    Yikes. This is the worst product idea ever. Most of these kids probably think the caffeine cancels out the alcohol. Shame on them (Four Loko) for putting such a misleading product on the shelves and shame on those young experimenters without the faculties or inhibitions to know the difference. Great, if not alarming, post!

    • November 5, 2010 at 7:20 pm #

      Looks like Michigan and Oklahoma both agree. They are in the process of banning this junk in those states.

  9. December 12, 2010 at 5:42 pm #

    I’m not sure Four Loko has what it takes to get me drunk. I’m trembling from the “energy,” though. http://bit.ly/e5uh8a

    • December 12, 2010 at 5:53 pm #

      Ha ha – that was an AWESOME review. But how do you know what ass cancer tastes like?

      • December 12, 2010 at 6:19 pm #

        You gotta make money in college somehow…

        • December 13, 2010 at 10:06 am #

          You slay me, Daniel.


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