Alcopops: Sweet and Dangerous

“Hey. Did you hear what I did at the party last weekend? It was crazy awesome.”

In society today, teens view drinking as normal and cool. They will boast about the crazy things they do while drunk. But while they view drinking as cool, new drinkers haven’t learned to like the bitter taste of alcohol.

So what do they drink instead? Alcopops.

What are Alcopops?

Alcopops are sweetened alcoholic beverages. They are flavored to taste like cola, pop, punch, or lemonade and have between 4-8% alcohol by volume (ABV). They are sold under multiple trade names, including:

“The only difference between alcopops and beer is the taste.”

  • Twisted Tea
  • Doc Otis Hard Lemon
  • Mike’s Hard Lemonade
  • Rick’s Spiked Mandarine Lim
  • Smirnoff Ice
  •  Skyy Blue
  • Captain Morgan Gold
  • Stolichnaya Citrona
  • Bacardi Silver

The Alcopop Rage

Since the first alcopop in the 1980s, these sweetened drinks have received enormous popularity–especially among teenagers.

Why? Alcopops appeal to young drinkers for two main reasons:

  1. They look cool: Alcopops are packaged in bright and colorful labels, making them seem very attractive to young consumers. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence of New Jersey described the design as “fun, sexy, and cool.”
  2. They don’t taste like alcohol: As mentioned before, alcopops have a fruity, sugary-sweet taste. The strong flavoring conceals the bitter taste of alcohol, making alcopops more palatable to new drinkers.

And not surprisingly, this marketing tactic works. Consider the following statistics:

  • According to the American Medical Association, half of teens between 17 and 18 years of age say they have tried alcopops.
  • According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, minors see 65% more alcopop magazine advertisements than those over 21.
  • In California, underage drinkers consume 47% of all the alcopops, according to the Marin Institute.

The Difference is less than you expect

Because the alcohol cannot be tasted, many inexperienced drinkers believe that alcopops are harmless and not as dangerous as hard liquor. What they don’t realize is that these drinks contain the same amount—or more—alcohol than many beers.

For example, Mike’s Hard Lemonade is 5% alcohol by volume (ABV), the same as a regular beer. Mike’s Harder Lemonade has even more, 8% (ABV).

This means that drinking too many bottles of alcopop can have the same effects as drinking too much of any alcoholic beverage. Alcohol in any form can have serious effects, from hangovers to slurred speech to death.

The Dangers of Drinking Alcopop

Over the years, alcopops have caused a frenzy of concern among parents, health care professionals and government agencies. Because of the way alcopops are advertised, some believe it promotes underage drinking and long term consequences.

Does it promote underage drinking?

“The beauty of this category [alcopops] is that it brings in new drinkers, people who really don’t like the taste of beer.”

The Alcohol industry claims that its intended audience is legal age drinkers (21-30), but studies  show that the majority of these flavored malt beverages are consumed by those under 21 (see above stat).

Even if it does not directly promote underage drinking, alcopop advertisements targets youth consumers. And by appealing to younger consumers, they lure in new drinkers.

Marlene Coulis, director of new products at Anheuser-Busch said in 2002, “The beauty of this category [alcopops] is that it brings in new drinkers, people who really don’t like the taste of beer.”

What about long-term effects of alcopop?

Excessive alcopop intake can result in numerous harmful results.  Teenage girls are especially vulnerable to the dangerous effects of alcopops.  American Medical Association surveys reveal:

  • Nearly 1 in 6 teen girls who have drunk alcopops in the past 6 months have been sexually active after drinking.
  • One out of 4 teen girls who have tried alcopops have driven after drinking or ridden in a car with a driver who had been drinking.
  • One out of 5 teen girls who have tried alcopops have thrown up or passed out from drinking.
  • Teenage girls who binge drink are at 3 times the risk of thinking about attempting suicide than girls who never drink alcohol.

And of course, just like any other alcoholic beverage, alcopops can lead to dependence and addiction:

  • According to the AAP, 9 out of 10 Americans who are addicted to alcohol began drinking before the age of 18.
  •  Young people who begin drinking before age 15 are seven times more likely to develop alcohol dependence and are two and a half times more likely to misuse alcohol later in life than those who begin drinking at age 21.

The Reality

It is important for teens to realize the reality of the effects of alcopops.  Alcopops are not any safer than other alcoholic beverages. Consuming too much can have fatal results, and the effects of habitual drinking can lead to life-changing consequences.