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Health scare of the week: Mixing caffeine and alcohol

Health experts and college presidents alike are alarmed at the rising popularity of fruity, caffeinated malt liquor drinks.

Caffeine may help with a hangover, but drinking it with alcohol is “a recipe for disaster,” Michael Reihart, an emergency-room doctor at Lancaster General Hospital in Pennsylvania, tells The New York Times. Health experts and college presidents alike are alarmed at the rising popularity of fruity, caffeinated malt liquor drinks; a 2008 survey found that a quarter of undergrads at public universities had consumed such drinks in the previous month. The brand Four Loko, which packs a 12 percent alcohol content and a coffee cup’s worth of caffeine—one police investigation called it “blackout in a can”—drew attention recently after several students from Ramapo College in New Jersey ended up in the hospital with alcohol poisoning. These beverages tend to encourage people to drink way past their usual limits, says Reihart, because the fruity flavor masks the alcohol, and the jolt of caffeine creates an illusion of wakefulness and sobriety; so instead of stopping or falling asleep, drinkers keep going. One can is the equivalent of four beers. “This is one of the most dangerous new alcohol concoctions I have ever seen,” Reihart says.

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