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Miller Times: Should Minnesota ban alcoholic energy drinks?

Every story I’ve read regarding alcohol energy drinks and young people being hospitalized has shared the same theme: They didn’t know what they were drinking.

The last time I drank an alcoholic energy drink, I broke a sweat just a few sips in. My entire forehead beaded in sweat and I felt waves of heat rush through my body. By the time I drank half of the 16 oz. can, I’d had enough. I felt intense pain in my stomach, as if I’d eaten glass, and my speech was starting to slur. I’m a 220-pound male who has tended bar for nearly three years. I can drink. Half a can of Joose, the alcoholic energy drink I’m speaking of, nearly put me out cold.

Joose is completely legal and you can get a can for just about two dollars. You won’t have to look hard to find it, either. (I bought the can at a grocery store.) Joose and other brands like Four Loko, Sparks and Tilt are under heavy scrutiny after several instances involving young adults suffering alcohol poisoning. Turns out a high concentration of alcohol and caffeine can lead to undesirable outcomes

Several states are now considering banning alcoholic energy drinks, and rightfully so. Although, there is one important question that’s sort of been grazed over: Why do young adults drink these beverages despite knowing the health risks?

Answer: Cost.

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The average college student stocks their mini fridge with bottom-shelf beer and liquor and they buy it in bulk. (I don’t mean to single out college students here, but most of the reported incidents seem to involve them, so let’s be real.) College students are frugal drinkers, save for maybe the week or so after they receive their FAFSA distribution. They want to have fun and rarely allow finances to hold them back. If they want to party, they’ll find a way.

What’s cheap? What will get college students the most bang for their buck? Alcoholic energy drinks, which promise a night full of energy, because after a long week of studying and testing, even 21-year-olds get tired. They’re also loaded with alcohol, so rather than drilling through a six-pack of beer, they can catch a buzz in just a few sips. That’s efficient, economical partying.

The problem is few actually know what’s in a can of Four Loko, because you won’t find a serving recommendation, calorie count or caffeine total on its label. According to NPR’s Anna King,

“Phusion Projects will give only an estimate of how much caffeine is in [Four Loko]: One can has about as much caffeine as a six-pack of Diet Coke. One can also fills an empty wine bottle and in fact, contains about as much alcohol as a bottle of wine.”

You can rightly assume Four Loko’s competitors achieve the same alarming numbers.

Do I support a ban on alcoholic energy drinks? I’m hesitant to say yes if Everclear and Bacardi 151 are being left on the shelf. However, I would like to see these beverages sold at a higher price with a more detailed warning on the can. Ban alcoholic energy drinks and college students will resort to the more traditional mix of vodka and Red Bull.

Anecdotally, I know alcohol and caffeine are a lethal mix, but I can’t explain why. That wasn’t a part of the drug-and-alcohol curriculum I was taught growing up. Every story I’ve read regarding alcohol energy drinks and young people being hospitalized has shared the same theme: They didn’t know what they were drinking. Short of banning these beverages, we need to do a better of job explaining their ill effects to students as early as high school.

After all, if there’s one thing we’ve learned about harmful substances in this country, it’s that banning them or making them illegal won’t make them go away.

This post was written by Andrew Miller and originally published on the Miller Times. Follow Andrew on Twitter:@the_millertimes.