Newswise — An “alcopop” is a bottled alcoholic beverage that masks the taste of alcohol with flavors such as soda or lemonade. Originally marketed in Australia during the mid-1990s, alcopop brands such as Smirnoff Ice and Mike’s Hard Lemonade soon became popular in the U.S. Supersized alcopops, such as Four Loko, contain large quantities of alcohol and are reportedly popular among underage drinkers. This study examined the extent to which young adults recognize how intoxicated they would become from drinking supersized alcopops.

The researchers surveyed 309 undergraduates enrolled in a Virginia university (184 men, 125 women), 18 years of age and older, who drank alcohol during the previous year. Students were provided with an empty can of either a Four Loko alcopop or Budweiser beer of comparable liquid volume and asked to estimate their individual blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) after hypothetical consumption of one, two, or three cans of the beverage provided to them. Researchers compared their own estimates of the students’ BACs – based on the students’ body weight and sex – to the students’ self-estimated BACs.

Students randomized to the supersized alcopop group greatly underestimated the level of intoxication that they would experience from consuming the beverage, whereas students randomized to the beer group overestimated intoxication. When estimating how much alcohol they could consume before it would become unsafe to drive, students in the supersized alcopop group were seven times as likely to have a calculated BAC greater than 0.08, the legal limit for driving, compared to those in the beer group. The authors emphasized the need for product warning labels on supersized alcopop cans to be revised to identify clearly the number of standard drinks they contain and also called for regulations to limit the alcohol content of single-serving beverages.

Journal Link: Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research