While vodka-Redbull and coffee brandy have been staples of the Bowdoin drinking scene for years, a more potent upper-downer beverage has made its way to Maine. Four Loko, a caffeinated, 24-ounce drink that contains 12 percent alcohol by volume, is stirring up controversy on college campuses nationwide.
While Four Loko is not sold or marketed in Maine, the Office of Residential Life and the Health Center issued a statement via e-mail yesterday addressing the drink. The e-mail reminded students that Four Loko violates the College's hard alcohol policy and stated that the administration considers the drink's mix of caffeine and alcohol to be dangerous.
Director of Residential Life Mary Pat McMahon spoke about the decision to release a statement to students, as well as what prompted the concern.
"It's been a national media story. It's not hugely present on campus, but is something that people are talking about it," said McMahon. "I think the thing that was interesting to me was that people didn't see that it might be dangerous."
While the statement specifically targeted Four Loko, McMahon was clear that Residential Life is concerned by the presence of all caffeinated alcoholic beverages, including those that may not violate the hard alcohol policy, like Joose, which is sold in Maine and is 9 percent to 12 percent alcohol by volume.
"One of the big takeaways is that the combination of caffeine and alcohol is not fully understood, but it's linked to some safety concerns," said McMahon. "We would recommend that people not drink Joose for similar reason[s]."
Four Loko, which was created by four Ohio State University alumni in 2005, is only sold in a handful of states but has become the drink of choice for many college students. A recent New York Times article cited the cheap price tag—approximately $2.50 per can—and high alcohol content as the major appeals of the drink.
Bowdoin students who have had Four Loko echoed this sentiment. Adit Basheer '11, who drank Four Loko during his summer in San Francisco, cited the cost as the appeal of the drink.
"I don't truly prefer it more than any other hard alcohol or beer," said Basheer. "It is enjoyable in a sense just because it's cheap."
Similarly, Jason Guzman '11 said that Four Loko is only popular because of its high alcohol content.
"It's not really an enjoyable drink; more of a means to an end," said Guzman. "It's not really something you sip on and have a conversation over."
To that end, Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster addressed the general attitude of the administration toward the drink and the dangers it poses to students.
"I think the key message here is a 'heads-up' message and the real concern is about the combo of the malt liquor with high caffeine dosage," said Foster. "You don't realize the degree to which you are impaired."
Guzman acknowledged the deceptive effect of Four Loko.
"It's really fruity so you don't really feel it until it hits you all at once. The high level of caffeine makes me feel energetic, and kind of makes you forget that you are actually really drunk," said Guzman. "I definitely think it's dangerous, in particular for novice drinkers or girls, due to their general lower tolerance and body weight."
Critics of the drink cite the combination of caffeine with such a high alcohol volume as the most dangerous part of the beverage. While, normally, your body tells you to stop drinking by getting tired and falling asleep, the caffeine in Four Loko keeps you awake and keeps you drinking.
Dean Foster expressed concern over the behavioral affect of Four Loko.
"There have been cases reported of people acting in unusually aggressive ways," said Foster. "So of course my concern is that someone [at Bowdoin] makes a poor choice and there are not only consequences for that person's health and well-being but for that of others as well."
Basheer discussed the possibility that Four Loko is a fad: popular merely because it is controversial.
"It probably appeals more to people because it's new," said Basheer. "[People] are probably excited about trying it."
Some colleges, like Ramapo College in New Jersey, who have seen an increased number of alcohol poisonings, have banned Four Loko from campus. At Ramapo, 23 students have been hospitalized for alcohol poisoning after consuming Four Loko this semester.
"We wouldn't ban it per se as we would have it fall under our existing policy," said Foster. "If people had cans of this, we would have them dump it out and Security will take action. It's the same as if Security walked into a party and someone was holding a handle of Jack Daniels."
Many other schools, including Boston University, Harvard University, and Northeastern University, are issuing warnings to their students about the potential harm of consuming Four Loko.