The caffeine-alcohol beverage Four Loko, considered a dangerous epidemic on major college and university campuses this year, has been banned at several universities. Caffeine-alcohol drinks like Four Loko, according to Jenna Johnson in the Washington Post, mix legal substances such as caffeine, alcohol (12 percent in Four Loco’s case), and other stimulants such as guarana.
The danger, Mary Claire O’Brien in a Wake Forest University study claims, is that for people who consume caffeine-alcohol drinks, the caffeine obscures the effects of being drunk, causing larger quantities to be consumed, resulting in higher incidents of alcoholic “consequences” (2006). Put simply, you don’t know you’re getting drunk until you’re way past being merely buzzed, and then you do stupid stuff, or worse. To protect students, some universities, such as Ramapo College in New Jersey, have banned the consumption of caffeine-alcohol drinks on campus (Johnson 2010).
This is reminiscent of the campaigns that universities wage against drugs and alcohol on campus, often after being awarded the dubious Princeton Review’s “Party School of the Year” award. My own alma mater, Oklahoma State University, banned alcohol on campus, including dormitories, fraternities, and sororities. According to Oklahoma State University’s alcohol policy, alcohol is still allowed in university apartments and family housing, and exceptions are made for visitors on game days or at the on campus hotel (2010).
In my own time there, in the ’90s, everyone was aware that alcohol wasn’t allowed in the dorms, and that you weren’t supposed to bring your own alcohol into the stadium on game days. Does that mean the rules were followed? Obviously not. Freshman year, for most, was a time of rebellion. Away from mom and dad for the first time, as all freshman students were required to live on campus in dorms, people tended to over-indulge. This wasn’t limited to food, as in the freshman 15, referring to the common weight gain experienced by first year students. Many students, despite being underage, found older classmates willing to hook them up with beer and liquor.
Campus policy dictated that alcohol on campus wasn’t allowed, and if caught, the police could be called. If the police found a minor in possession of alcohol, they were usually, but not always, cited with a minor in possession misdemeanor. In the dorms, however, unless you were being a nuisance, the resident advisers (RAs) usually looked the other way. There was often a sense of anything goes in the freshman dorms. One RA in particular threw some of the biggest parties, in fact. A sophomore down the hall, labeled “Don the Drunk” by others in the dorm, sunk further into alcoholism and most likely flunked out of school.
The mere banning of a legal substance alone won’t change attitudes, particularly if enforcement is lax. Prohibition doesn’t work. If administrators are serious about protecting students, they must make efforts to change campus culture. They should take steps to educate the student body about the dangers of caffeine-alcohol drinks, and for those who want to drink, they should promote responsible drinking. Dictating from on high, that alcohol and caffeine-alcohol drinks such as Four Loko are banned on campus, merely encourages many students to partake out of non-conformity.
Johnson, Jenna. (2010). FourLoko –‘blackouts-in-a-can’– banned by NJ college. Washington Post.
O’Brien, Mary Claire. (2006). Caffeinated Cocktails: Get Wired, Get Drunk, Get Injured. Wake Forest University School of Medicine.
Oklahoma State University. (2010). Alcohol Policy.