Livin’ La Vida Loko

Last Tuesday was not a good day for any American outside of the top one percent of wage earners. Democrats lost 65 seats in the House, bestowing the GOP with their biggest majority in, well, over half a century and now cling to power in the Senate by a narrow margin. The next two years will likely be characterized by ridiculous Republican investigations of the Obama White House — is he from Kenya? From Indonesia? From Mars? — tax cuts without matching cuts in spending, attempts to undo all the progress of the past two years and a general lack of drive to solve the problems of today. When the Republican minority leader in the Senate says that his top priority is preventing Obama from winning reelection, you know he could care less about trying to fix the economy.

With all of that, I’m far too depressed to analyze the seeds of the Democratic defeat, or even to point out the good things that happened — Shumlin prevailing in the Vermont Governor’s race, or Bennett winning by a narrow margin in Colorado, or Reid holding his seat and his position as Majority Leader. Plus, I’m not even sure that last one is a good thing. And so, like any self-respecting writer, I’ll turn to alcohol to numb the pain — writing about alcohol, that is.

Republican politicians aren’t the only thing sweeping the nation and causing widespread vomiting this fall. The colorful alcoholic beverage known as “Four Loko” has exploded in popularity and is rapidly becoming the drink of choice for college students around the country. Both the New York Times and Washington Post recently ran stories about the dangers of the drink, which contains a large dose of alcohol, caffeine and other ingredients more commonly found in a can of Red Bull.

While the can itself states that the drink is 12 percent alcohol –— the same as, say, a dry Reisling — estimates, both in the media and on campus, seem to differ as to just how many “drinks” are contained within one $2.50 can. One story I read suggested that the answer to this was three, while another said four — which would make sense, given the name of the drink. Yet if you do the math, it turns out that a single can contains a quantity of alcohol more comparable to an entire bottle of wine, or about six standard drinks, along with as much caffeine as a large coffee.

The drink’s popularity has unsurpsingly caused widespread concern among school administrators and healthcare professionals. Many schools are taking the step of “banning” Four Loko from their campuses because of its perceived risk to the student body, while Michigan just banned it from stores all across the state. These measures will probably be ineffective at best. Stupidity remains a far greater risk than some stylish new drink. A closer look at the hospitalizations among students who drank Four Loko reveals a common trend ­— all drank copious amounts of other alcohol as well. One student was admitted to the ER after chugging three cans of the stuff and then taking some Tequilla shots. Others mixed the Loko with beer and shots of rum and vodka. But I’ve yet to see a headline this fall about how shots pose a health risk to the nation’s youth.

Obviously, students should be made aware of the risks of a drink that they may not be as familiar with as beer or hard alcohol. They should know, for example, that a single can contains more calories than a Wendy’s “Baconator” burger. With time, awareness will grow, and Four Loko’s popularity will fade, as does every new weekend fad. In the meantime colleges — including Middlebury — need not consider a ban on the beverage. Most of the students who consume it are under 21 anyway, and those above deserve the right to choose what they drink for themselves. It’s already against the law for underage students to consume any alcoholic beverage, including Four Loko, yet they overwhelmingly flout those rules to drink on the weekends. Public Safety officers already make students dump out their drinks and/or give them citations when they bust up an underage party. A ban of any single drink will not change this. By banning Four Loko, colleges only will add to its popularity and appeal, decrease the information available about it and delay medical attention for students who need it but who fear repercussions.