The Association of Stupid People May Make Irish Coffee Disappear
One of the most striking controversies in the world of alcohol today is whether or not Caffeinated Alcohol drinks are safe to consume. In October, 23 students at Central Washington University were hospitalized after drinking Four Loco, one such caffeinated alcohol drink. In Maryland, a woman crashed a truck and died after consuming Four Loko. Numerous colleges have now banned the consumption of Caffeinated alcohol drinks, the states of Michigan and Washington have banned such drinks and other states are considering similar bans.
Are these drinks "safe"?
First, let's look at the most notorious of them: Four Loko, produced by Phusion Projects. The can contains 23.5 ounces of liquid, just slightly less than a 750 milliliter bottle of wine. The alcohol content is 12%, much less than the average alcohol content for wine, which is quite often over 14%.
The caffeine content of Four Loko is just slightly less than what you'd get in a standard 12 ounce cup of drip coffee.
The drink also contains taurine and gaurana, two ingredients found in most energy drinks.
A 2008 review of medical and research literature concerning the effects of taurine and gaurana in energy drinks found "The amounts of guarana, taurine…found in popular energy drinks are far below the amounts expected to deliver either therapeutic benefits or adverse events."
It turns out that the FDA is doing a study of these caffeinated energy drinks and has been since 2009. With the 23 students going to the hospital in Washington State after drinking Four Loko and with states and campuses now banning the stuff, I'm guessing the FDA's study just got more pressing. Here is what I know they won't find and won't do.
I can nearly guarantee that the FDA will not find enough of a problem with the mixing of Caffeine and Alcohol to call for any sort of a ban on the mixing of these ingredients. We've been mixing alcohol and Caffeine for hundreds of years. My guess is that it has been happening in the West since the 15th century. And what is the FDA going to do, demand that no bars in America ever serve Irish Coffee ever again? I don't think so.
The problem with these drinks is social, in their packaging design and in their taste. Allow me to explain.
First, the drink is not particularly intoxicating. In fact, it's not as intoxicating as wine if you drink the same amounts. However, it is very easy to drink. The sugar and artificial ingredients make this stuff go down real easy. It's packaging, in a can that looks like any energy drink, gives us the impression it is similar to an energy drink, or even a beer, which isn't so intoxicating. But, combine these two things with inexperienced college student who isn't used to alcohol and who is given a reprieve from bite of alcohol by the sweetness of the drink and the ease with which it goes down, and you've got a problem.
Now, it is also reported that the caffeine in these drinks "mask" the effect of the alcohol. Again, the inexperienced college kid doesn't have the storehouse of drinking knowledge to know that this much alcohol is going to mess you up. But when the effect is further masked, for a time, by the caffeine, and they feel they can drink even more.
But here's the thing, the FDA can't regulate stupidity and inexperience. And they aren't going to ban the mixing of alcohol and caffeine because, well, because that's just stupid. Plus, those of us who revere the Buena Vista Cafe's Irish Coffee would march on Washington.
So here is what I think will happen with these drinks. Until the FDA can thoroughly study the effects of combining Alcohol, caffeine AND TAURINE AND GAURANA, they will ban the sale of such mixtures. And what I'm willing to bet is that after they take 5 to 10 years to study this, they will conclude they have found no health concerns with the mixtures. You can probably count on a lawsuit or two in their also.
There is going to be a lot of hypocrisy and politicking around this issue. Politicians will call for its banning, as will anti-alcohol groups. And we'll see a number of state actually ban the sale of energy drinks in the interests of the kids.
What really needs to be banned, however, is stupidity. We need to ban young people from being stupid—like drinking 75 ounces of 12% alcohol in an hour. Of course of ban on being stupid would lead to an equal protection lawsuit by the ASP: "The Association of Stupid People", and frankly they'd be correct to file it.
The only serious message that comes out of this post is that we ought to play close attention and hope that no one with intellectual consistency takes up this issue and asks to ban Four Loko and other Caffeinated Alcohol drinks. An intellectually consistent girl or boy would then have to call for the banning of any and all mixing of caffeine and alcohol. And not to beat a dead horse, but I want my Irish Coffee and I don't want to have to break the law to get it.