Alcoholic energy drink Four Loko puts students in hospital

A couple of dudes on a beach flashing their Four Loko cans.

Ellensburg authorities have found consumption of alcoholic energy drink Four Loko to be the culprit in a recent frightening series of student hospitalizations. (Photo: CC BY/Annie Lindgren/Flickr)

College binge drinking isn’t out of the ordinary, despite the health risks involved. But a recent case involving a group of Central Washington University students in Ellensburg, Wash., and alcohol poisoning highlights at least two disturbing new trends in binge drinking that health experts report are best avoided, said KOMO Seattle. The CWU students, some of them dangerously underweight, had passed out at a party after consuming a $2.50 caffeinated malt liquor called “Four Loko.”

Four Loko and drunkorexia: a deadly combination

According to Ellensburg authorities, the average blood alcohol content of the CWU students involved in the alcohol poisoning incident was .23, about three times higher than the legal limit for driving. Blood alcohol content of .30 is frequently fatal. It was previously believed that illicit drugs were involved in the bizarre round of blackouts, but further investigation found that all the students had consumed Four Loko, a caffeinated alcoholic drink that has the alcohol equivalent of five to six beers in a single can. That alone earned the brew the nickname “blackout in a can.” Plus, the caffeine enables the drinker to consume more before succumbing to the alcohol’s effects. Combine all of this with a new phenomenon media sources like the Los Angeles Times have called “drunkorexia,” where (mostly) young people fanatically avoid consuming calories because they plan to take on a heavy calorie load via binge drinking, and the deadly formula is easy to see.

The energy to enforce change

According to various health officials, an illusion exists with energy drinks in general: If they make a person feel alert and able to perform, the drink can’t be all bad. While it’s true that some energy drinks are infused with vitamins and herbs like ginseng, alcoholic energy drinks are an irresponsible combination, at least in the estimation of Washington state Attorney General Rob McKenna. His office is leading an effort to ban caffeinated malt liquor, although past efforts have died in the state legislature, reports KOMO.


Los Angeles Times

KOMO coverage of the CWU incident