Four Loko’s Legend Lives On

The history of Four Loko reads like a bad movie script

The wildly popular drink made of fruit juices, alcohol and caffeine comes under fire from law enforcement officials concerned over its use by juveniles. Next, the evil ol’ FDA issues ominous-sounding warnings about the dangers of mixing alcohol – a depressant – and caffeine – a stimulant. Finally, Four Loko and its clones exit the (legal) store shelves with both alacrity and a Schwarzenegger-like parting shot of “I’ll be back!” But the truth is that bombs-away concoctions of alcohol and stimulants have always had prominent places in U.S. society, as any lover of Irish coffee can tell us. For Four Loko-type drinks to make a reappearance, all it takes is some alcohol, a ground-up caffeine pill like Vivarin or No-Doz, and some mixed fruit juice. Voila! Instant Loko in your own kitchen.

By all accounts, the departure of Four Loko from store shelves made millions for the drink’s manufacturer when dismayed admirers stocked up on cases of the stuff before the FDA could snatch them up. And recently, bartenders and club owners around the nation report a boom in sales of Loko-like drinks.

Take “Adult Chocolate Milk,” for example, made with creamy milk, dark chocolate powder and a jigger (or two for a “double down”) of rum. Whiz in a blender, and there you have it for about $5.00 – less, of course, if you make it at home. Variations include adding some whipped topping and/or chocolate liqueur like Vandermint. At the bar, Adult Chocolate Milk lovers enjoy sipping the drink in defiance of the demise of Four Loko; those in-the-know, however, smile gently because these drinks have been around for decades, much before Loko Days. It’s not well known that chocolate is made from the South American cacao nut and contains natural caffeine; the gram amount varies from dark to milk chocolate. Americans tend to believe that chocolate, in all its forms, comes from the indigenous Hershey Tree.

Regardless of one’s opinion of the FDA’s ban on drinks containing alcohol and caffeine, it’s an undeniable fact that whopping amounts of caffeine tend to mask the drowsiness caused by alcohol use. For the past century, at least, many a drunk has tried to sober up by drinking black coffee in plentiful amounts. It’s become a vernacular phrase to say that “all this gets you is a wide-awake drunk.” And this is completely true; caffeine blunts the drowsiness caused by excessive alcohol, but not the other equally dangerous effects like the loss of inhibitions, mood instability, slow reaction time and motor skills, and the decrease in motor skills. Many a bar fight and domestic altercation can be traced back to drunken coffee drinkers.

A bright physicist once said that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Four Loko fans appear to have proven that this is also a social fact as well; for every unpopular action by a government, there is an equal and opposite reaction by the people who resent this action. The legacy of Four Loko is that its removal from store shelves renewed the interest in, and consumption of, “adult” drinks that contain equal and opposite drug effects. That these drinks are not available to minors or that they ever have, ever will, disappear is a fantasy equal to that ever written in fairy tales.