Local Currents

Abuse and Responsibility


By David Vanderveen

“No report or study to date has shown a compelling connection between caffeine and alcohol to abuse or addiction. Determining that college students drink more alcohol for the purpose of intoxication is an indulgence in reporting the obvious.”

–Dr. Peter Bennett, Canadian Olympic Doctor and author

Energy drink safety has been an issue in the national news recently. The issue: whether or not energy drinks that are mixed with high concentrations of alcohol can lead to alcohol abuse and addiction among young adults.

Our federal government intervened on behalf of hard-drinking college students this week–clearly the victims of energy drink manufacturers and not poor personal choices. Watch out, red plastic party cups, also directly correlated with hard-drinking college students–you’re next!

The energy drinks in question are very similar to malt liquor beverages in their marketing, distribution and alcohol content. They are urban brands that promote heavy drinking to an audience looking for higher alcohol in their beer and wine category choices.

The FDA sent warning letters to four companies making alcohol-based energy drinks saying, “The drinks do not meet the legal standard for safety.” The health concern is that the caffeine in the drinks masks the feeling of drunkenness so people drink too much and become ill, according to USA Today.

I don’t think anyone is surprised that malt liquor can lead to alcohol abuse or addiction. King Cobra, a malt liquor popular when I was in college (particularly married with Jagermeister shots) didn’t mask drunkenness. It just got you drunker faster—many times faster than you realized. That was because of the alcohol content and serving size, not whether or not you were drinking a cola or coffee with it.

The issue with malt liquor isn’t the beverage. The issue is that there are people who look for beverages with higher alcohol content because they want more alcohol per serving and dollar spent. That market has always been predisposed to abuse and addiction.

As a result of these FDA letters going out, one of the brands that received a letter, Four Loko, is selling out as consumers buy it before the current formula disappears from shelves. One real consequence of our growing nanny state is that the FDA is causing more people to change their behavior and buy and drink more energy drinks and alcohol than they normally would have over coming weeks.

AOL posted a poor piece of journalism with strong entertainment value this week along the same lines, citing a ridiculous study that claimed “Energy drink use may lead to alcohol abuse.”

The article cited a recent study at the University of Maryland that college students who drank energy drinks and alcohol were more likely to get drunk and develop addiction issues. The study was far from conclusive and offered little scientific evidence. A better title for the article might have been, “Going to college may lead to alcohol abuse.”

I went to a conservative liberal arts college that banned students from drinking, among other things. Students who wanted to test their new liberties abused everything from real booze to cooking sherry to banana peels (see the Anarchist Cookbook for more details; and, no, smoking dried banana peels does not get you high). It was not the fault of the producers of the liquor, beer, wine, cooking sherry or bananas. It is what many young adults getting their first taste of freedom do in college culture. They experiment.

It’s no secret that I am a partner in an international energy drink brand. We focus on making healthier options, all sugar-free and some without caffeine. We offer cocktail recipes and have hosted Congressional cocktail parties with them. At our parties we do not need to call paramedics, and no one has passed out or thrown up. We made responsible choices.

Only very rarely have we seen people abuse our drinks. We sell our brand in North America, Europe, and Asia to hundreds of millions of consumers, and I have only had a few instances where we have been told of abuse of our drinks with or without alcohol. In every abuse case the drinker chose to act irresponsibly.

One benefit of living in Laguna Beach is our history of developing and progressing action sports. We know where the responsibility lies when it comes to risk management. It’s not the mountain bike, skateboard, surfboard, spear gun, scuba gear or energy drink manufacturer who is responsible for the choices of the user. Individuals who pursue and manage risk are responsible for their choices. Unfortunately, the FDA will not be held accountable for the loko consequences of their actions.
David Vanderveen is a Laguna Beach resident, husband, father and energy drink entrepreneur. His email is [email protected].

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