Cardinal Sins: The Problem of Four Loko

Four Loko is the alcohol craze that’s sweeping the nation. At 12 percent ABV, one 24-ounce Four Loko is a powerful drink, the equivalent of about four or five normal beer cans. With caffeine, taurine, guarana and a massive amount of sugar, Four Loko has some unpredictable effects along with its sheer alcoholic power. Also, at $2.50 a can, it’s very attractive to college students and easy to consume in large quantities.

It is said that the combination of alcohol and caffeine, along with sugar that masks the taste of alcohol, makes drinkers less aware of their own inebriation and therefore more likely to attempt to drive or make other reckless decisions. Mixing alcohol, a depressant, with caffeine, a stimulant, has been linked to excessive consumption and alcohol poisoning, irresponsible behavior and drunk driving. The effects of Four Loko aren’t well known, but the drink has been slowly accumulating a reputation for the hijinks it causes, as the website Four Loko Stories can attest.

As its popularity has increased, Four Loko has been blamed for a growing number of unpleasant incidents on college campuses. Especially in the last few months, there has been an incredibly strong reaction to the growing popularity of the drink. Numerous universities, among them Brandeis, Northeastern and Boston Universities, have warned their students about the dangers of Four Loko and similar alcoholic energy drinks. Others, like the University of Rhode Island and Ramapo College (NJ), have banned the drink altogether. Ramapo had 17 students and 6 visitors hospitalized because of Four Loko before it took steps toward removing it from campus. At the moment, it seems likely that Four Loko bans will spread across collegiate America.

The knee-jerk reaction to substances one judges dangerous is to ban them. However, this is an incomplete solution. Especially at universities, which serve, if not to prepare students for the realities of adult life, at least to equip them to use adult freedom to its best ends, banning substances that students will face in later life is a poor answer to problems like the Four Loko problem. The answer for universities like Stanford is, fittingly enough, education.

Stanford is known for having an alcohol policy that, uniquely and rightly, treats its students like responsible adults. That treatment should extend to the issue of Four Loko.

Much like it doesn’t ban books, Stanford shouldn’t hastily ban Four Loko. Stanford teaches students to understand the value of books with hateful and dangerous rhetoric, and, just the same, Stanford should equip students with the skills to enjoy beverages like Four Loko (if they want to), which can be dangerous, in a responsible manner. Banning drinks like Four Loko implies that students don’t have the necessary skills to deal with these substances.

That implication itself shows a need for education. Stanford students will most likely graduate into a world where alcoholic energy drinks are legal or available. We should know how to drink them or at least know why we should abstain from them.

Stanford has not been affected by the Four Loko craze so strongly. However, the popular, sugary drink will probably breach the Stanford bubble soon enough. Stanford should not succumb to the knee-jerk urge to ban it. Rather, Stanford should react knowing that, armed with the proper information, its students can learn to use Four Loko in a safe way.

The University should never take it upon itself to deny us any of the privileges of an adult in the United States. It should not be a parental figure in the lives of its students. Stanford’s administration should only interest itself with ensuring that all students have the tools to safeguard their own well being. Stanford students themselves should be entrusted with the decision of whether or not they wish to consume Four Loko and similar substances. The University’s mission should be to arm them with the necessary knowledge to decide and act as informed people.

Should the University ban Four Loko? Voice your concern at dsnelson@stanford.edu.

About David Spencer Nelson