I was walking my dog the other day in a park where teens often meet up at night to hang out and drink.
I'm about 30, but my inner 80-year-old woman came out, shaking my head and thinking "shame, shame," when I spotted an empty can of Four Loko crumpled on the ground. Aside from wishing teen drinking wasn't an issue, I almost wished it was the usual light beer can tossed on the lawn. Beer is more predictable.
But Four Loko and other alcoholic energy drinks (Tilt, Joose, Sparks) have swept this nation of young drinkers who love the cheap thrill of guzzling this sugary booze but don't know much about the possible deadly effects: alcohol poisoning, seriously impaired judgment, heart attack.
The tall, brightly-colored cans contain a fruity malt beverage in bubblegum-like flavors like blue raspberry, with as much alcohol as a few beers plus as much caffeine as a Starbucks Venti (giant) cup of coffee. They're marketed to college students and even younger kids, resembling a snazzy can of Red Bull on steroids.
The caffeine gives a jolt of energy that masks drunkenness, and before the drinker knows it, she's had four and is on the floor. Well, that's how the horror stories go (and there are more than a few – a quick Google search turns up news stories of teen deaths or near deaths tied to these drinks in Texas, Virginia, Tennessee, New Jersey, Florida, Indiana, Washington...).
The F.D.A is finally expected to take action this week by either forcing the drink companies to pull the drinks from the market or making them reformulate the beverages to be less hazardous. They need scientific proof of the bad effects of these drinks, but aren't the headlines enough in this case?
States are gradually taking action and banning the drinks on their own. But it's already too late for some families. The latest victim is a 14-year-old girl in Denton, Texas.
And teens are stocking up on the drink with the news of a possible ban looming.
How do you approach the subject of underage drinking? Use these resources on drugs and alcohol to start the dialog with your kids – maybe sooner than you were thinking. More than half of 8th graders in the U.S. have had alcohol, polls have shown.