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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

George Mason: Four Loko Continues to Wreak Havoc Among Young Drinkers

Supersized alcopops — such as Four Loko — are sugar-sweetened beverages with high alcohol content — up to 14 percent abv (alcohol by volume) or 5.5 standard drinks in one 23.5 oz. can. Two new studies led by Dr. Matthew Rossheim at George Mason University College of Health and Human Services found that most college students first drank Four Loko while under 21 years old, many experienced dangerous consequences, and most grossly underestimated its alcohol content despite bearing newly mandated labels.

Published in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, Dr. Rossheim and colleagues assessed college students’ estimation of Four Loko’s alcohol content. They found that when viewing a can with the Federal Trade Commission’s mandated label, the majority underestimated alcohol content by one or more drinks. However, while more than 60 percent of Florida students and more than 70 percent of Virginia students underestimated Four Loko’s alcohol content, fewer Montana students did so (45 percent). Virginia and Florida sell Four Loko with up to 14 percent abv, while Montana sells up to 8 percent abv.

Dr. Rossheim led a study published in August (also in the American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse) that was the first study to assess first time consumption of Four Loko among college students. They found that nearly all respondents who had tried Four Loko first did so while underage (93 percent). Fifty-seven percent of students drank at least one can their first time, and 10 percent drank two or more cans. Of underage drinkers who finished at least one can, 36 percent blacked out and 21 percent vomited. Students in states that sell Four Loko with higher abv were twice as likely to black out and vomit their first time.

Dr. Rossheim and colleagues recommend better enforcement of existing laws, revising the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)-mandated labels to include standard alcoholic drinks, and reducing the alcohol content in these drinks.

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