In the past few years, a flood of flavored alcohols has entered the market with the intention of drawing in more consumers. For some who don’t like the taste of beer or vodka, products like hard lemonade offer an appetizing alternative at parties or just relaxing at home.
However, a recent study points to some of the hidden effects of consuming these drinks. Young people who consume more flavored alcoholic beverages reported more episodes of heavy drinking and alcohol-related injuries than those who prefer other types of alcohol.
Though there are a dizzying array of flavors on store shelves, flavored alcohol can be separated into three large categories. Those such as Smirnoff, brewed from barley and sometimes flavored by hops to create beer, are classified as malt-based beverages. Another major alcohol group is the ready-to-drink cocktails. These often come in containers that feature well-known mixes or new concoctions.
The last category, termed supersized alcopops, refers to large drinks that contain low percentages of alcohol but contain multiple servings in terms of volume. The most notable example from this category is Four Loko, containing both alcohol and caffeine, which created a health concern that led to restriction in its sale.
While many of these alcoholic beverages appear harmless, researchers found that adolescents who prefer flavored drinks are more likely to suffer injuries. The team, led by David Jernigan from the Bloomberg School of Public Health, compared statistics of injuries between underage drinkers who prefer traditional alcohol and those who prefer flavored alcohol.
They discovered that teens who drink cocktails or flavored drinks are drinking more frequently and in larger quantities than their counterparts.
Furthermore, the study revealed that about half of the teenage drinkers reported that they had alcohol in the past 30 days. Out of 1,000 underage drinkers who drank at least once in the past 30 days, the majority of those who had flavored drinks reported heavy drinking. In fact, about 45 percent of drinkers who prefer non-flavored drinks had at least an episode of heavy drinking while at least 70 percent of those who prefer one category of flavored drinks experienced heavy drinking. The highest incidences of heavy drinking belong to the group that drinks more than one type of flavored alcohol.
Researchers have listed several potential reasons for the increase in alcohol-related injuries among those who like alcopops. Most of these flavors contain a large amount of sugar, allowing teens to enjoy the effects of alcohol without tasting the bitterness. In addition, the drinks often contain low percentages of alcohol, causing teens to underestimate the amount of alcohol they had consumed.
A typical serving of alcohol differs widely in countries and the way it is served, but a more accurate measure is called the standard drink which directly measures the volume of alcohol. In the U.S. a standard drink is 0.6 ounces of alcohol, the amount that is in most 12 ounce cans of beer.
A can of Four Loko contain at least two standard drinks. Last of all, the researchers point to flavored drinks as a cheap alternative for teenagers. The retail price of an alcopop is comparable to that of soft drinks, leading to greater access.
Though flavored drinks can present a more palatable way to enjoy alcohol, there is a growing concern about their appeal.
Every year, about 4,000 underage casualties are alcohol-related. If flavored alcoholic beverages continue to grow in popularity among people under 21, we could see that number increase.