A boozy up-and-down makes this Loko loco

by | Dec 30, 2010 | Comment, Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Can we agree that young people need no help in getting drunk?

And can we agree that young people are attracted to the following:

Large cans.

Sweet flavors like lemonade or fruit punch.

A cheap price.

Staying awake.

Put those all together, and you can understand why Four Loko is one of the fastest-growing alcoholic beverages in the country.

And why so many older people are worried.

Four Loko comes in brightly colored, 23.5-ounce cans. In case you don’t remember measurements from high school (which is the age of many kids drinking this stuff), old-fashioned Coke bottles used to be 8 ounces. A typical can of beer is 12 ounces.

Four Loko is not only nearly twice that, it also has 12% alcohol content (vs. 4% or 5% for a beer). And, oh, yeah, it costs only a couple of bucks – at a 7-Eleven, gas station or other easily accessible places.

This may be why the last few months, several dozen students at Washington and New Jersey colleges were hospitalized after reportedly drinking Four Loko. And why campuses across the country – and this past week, the state of Michigan – have banned it and other alcoholic energy drinks from being sold.

The desire to be humming 24-7

Now, in our current mood of “too much government,” this will bring out protesters who cry 1. What’s it your business if I want to get drunk? 2. Where are the parents in all this? 3.Why are stores selling to minors? and 4.What’s it your business if I want to get drunk?

The last is an unwinnable argument. If people want to guzzle Four Loko until they collapse – in their house, not behind the wheel – they have that right. Maybe a waste of life, but they have the right.

I am more worried about kids – high schoolers, college freshmen – stuck in that adolescent wrestle of wanting to be cool versus not wanting to damage themselves. A yellow or purple can with kiwi or grape flavoring that also promises to – and this is critical – keep you awake is a dangerously tempting product.

Remember, while many of us went through the sneak-a-beer phase, these energy drinks are a whole new game. The only beverage we drank for energy was cola or coffee – and coffee tasted bitter, it was our parents’ drink (this was long before Starbucks) – and we only did it if we had a final exam.

Today, kids guzzle energy drinks as if popping chewing gum. Red Bull. Monster. Full Throttle. Rockstar. You see 15- and 16-year-olds with this stuff all the time. For an edge in sports. To do hours of homework. To be up all night on the computer.

Staying awake has never been so attractive.

And crashing has never been so dangerous.

The desire to black out

The problem with Four Loko is that the caffeine, taurine and guarana – all stimulants – can mask the effects of all that alcohol. Initially, you feel the jolt and say, “I’m not drunk, I’m alert.”

So you have another.

But when the stimulant wears off, the depressant takes over. And you have kids blacking out, waking up on lawns or worse, reporting that they were sexually abused but barely remember it.

True, stores should never sell this stuff to minors. And parents should teach their kids to be responsible. And we should all love our neighbor, give to charity and maintain the proper body weight.

But since that world is fantasy, this world requires some help. I don’t mind the ban on this stuff. The guys who started Four Loko – college buddies from the Ohio State University – knew exactly whom they were targeting when they created the brew. You know what kids call it? Blackout in a can. If you think that’s a product we must save, we’re on a different page.

Teens can mix rum and Coke. They can make Irish coffee. You can never fully stop underage drinking. But you don’t have to dress it in fruity colors and sell it cheap.

There are many words I’d like associated with our kids. “Loko” isn’t one of them.

Contact MITCH ALBOM: malbom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760). Also catch “Monday Sports Albom” 7-8 p.m. Mondays on WJR. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/mitch.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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