Caffeine and Alcohol: Danger in a Can

In 2005, a few enterprising college students noticed that their classmates were enjoying themselves mixing alcohol and caffeinated beverages. They invented a drink called 4 Loco, which by 2007 was extremely popular amongst the under-30 group. Very quickly, nearly 30 companies introduced similar energy/alcohol combination drinks.

Posted on | Arthur Perry, MD, FACS | Comments ()

In 2005, a few enterprising college students noticed that their classmates were enjoying themselves mixing alcohol and caffeinated beverages. They invented a drink called 4 Loco, which by 2007 was extremely popular amongst the under-30 group. Very quickly, nearly 30 companies introduced similar energy/alcohol combination drinks.

Each 23.5 ounce can of 4 Loco contained as much alcohol as a six-pack of beer and as much caffeine as 5 cups of coffee.  And the stimulant effects were boosted by guarino seed extract, taken from a rainforest vine that contains more caffeine than any other known plant, and additional theobromine and theophylline.  The 4th “Loco” was taurine, an amino acid that has unproven effects.

The problem with this concoction is that the caffeine reduces the tipsy feeling that we all get when we drink too much. In fact, the sedating effects of alcohol are blunted so much that drinkers of these alcohol/energy drinks are 3 times more likely to binge drink (more than 4 drinks for a woman or 5 drinks for a man). And they’re twice as likely to sexually take advantage of someone else or be taken advantage of. They’re also twice as likely to drive drunk or drive with someone who is drunk. In short, they lose control …a nd then bad things happen.  Deaths and violence on college campuses all over the country have been linked to alcoholic energy drinks.

In November 2009, the FDA asked the companies to prove these drinks were safe. Safety was not demonstrated and all but 4 companies ceased production. In November 2010, the FDA told the companies to stop making the drinks and the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau made their interstate sale illegal. 

On December 13, 2010, the last 4 Loco drink was sold. The company has trucked the warehouse supply to a company that will extract the alcohol and sell it as an auto fuel additive. 

In the end, the FDA did its job, protecting the public from a dangerous product. Of course, you can still mix up a rum and coke. But if you do so, be careful, and set a safe and sensible limit in advance.

Blog written by Arthur Perry, MD, FACS
Dr. Perry has over 2 decades of experience as a clinical surgeon and has been named to the “Best Doctors in the NY Area” book...