Sour Apple, Blue Raspberry, Lemon Sherbet, Red Kola, Tropical Fruit Punch and New Venom. Sound refreshing? These are just some flavours of Dragon Soop. And what a cool name!
So what exactly is it? It’s the latest in the range of novelty caffeinated alcohol beverages. It’s 8% ABV and contains high levels of caffeine (35mg per 100ml) and loads of sugar! Oh, it’s also blended with taurine and guarana to make it sound good for you. It’s difficult to argue that the eye-catching graphics and clever branding are not targeted for teenagers. Basically an ‘energy drink’ laced with booze.
Alco-caffeinated brands such as Buckfast aren’t new in Scotland. However, it’s never been so easy for young experimental drinkers when the taste of alcohol is completely masked by such a variety of cool sugary flavours. It might as well be their favourite fizzy drink. For a first time drinker it beats the taste of warm beer or nasty spirits. And thrown in for good measure is that high caffeine content. A stimulant drug mixed with a depressant drug, consumed together and sending mixed, potentially harmful signals along the nervous system and heart in the still developing teenage body.
Every can of Dragon Soop has roughly the same alcohol content as two pints of beer. The manufacturers say drink responsibly. But despite this many of the young people I support drink it, and they don’t stop at one or two. They tell me they like the taste. It goes down easy, and it usually goes down quick. Young people are telling me personal stories of what has happened to their friends when drinking it. It’s more often a case of feeling fine one minute then falling over the next, not a gradual progression from tipsy to drunk, making many young people very vulnerable, very quickly. They’re more likely to pass out than fall asleep!
They don’t describe the mess they often find themselves in as enjoyable as the taste. And what a mess they often find themselves in. Black outs, episodes of hyper behaviour, being sick, losing phones, losing friends and losing control. Sometimes it’s easy to feel powerless as concerned adults, parents or community workers. We might not be able to impact underage drinking as we would like, but what we can do is become more aware of what’s available out there and educate young people on the risks: why mixing caffeine with alcohol is risky, on drinking within their limits or why it’s sensible not to start. We can talk to parents who might not be aware of these high alco-content novelty drinks. We can talk to shop keepers who stock it about the dangers for young people. We can start a conversation about the impact they have upon communities.
The branding of Dragon Soop brings to mind the many problems we had not so long ago when the prevalence of ‘legal highs’ was higher. They also come with bright colours and cool names: Pineapple Express, Snow Blow, Pandora’s Box Unleashed, Cherry Bomb, Clockwork Orange and Bliss. Manufacturers got around the law by changing their chemical composition if a specific ban was imposed, or by saying they were not for human consumption claiming that they were plant food, bath salts or herbal incense. ‘Legal highs’, or New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) as they are officially known, contain chemical substances that mimic the effects of drugs like cocaine, acid and ecstasy. Emergency hospital admissions, poisoning, violence and sometimes death were being directly linked to these ‘legal highs’. Young people were consuming tablets and powders not knowing what they contained, their effects or purity. However, since the spring of 2016 these so-called ‘legal highs’ have been classified illegal. Critics claimed that it would drive these type of drugs underground or young people would turn to the dark web. Fortunately there has been a reduction in the harm caused by NPS drugs because they’re just not as easily accessible.
Alcohol brings harm to a bigger population of young people. And novelty branded drinks such as Dragon Soop are accessible and increasing in popularity. Under 18s have little trouble getting hold of their favourite Lemon Sherbet or Red Kola from that older pal who can legally buy it in the local corner shop. My message is clear when I’m supporting young people: Dragon Soop isn’t a safe drink for teenagers, and they are best to avoid it. I explain the science when I can, such as possible side effects on heart function and the impact on the still-developing brain, or I discuss things like risk of alcohol poisoning and drinking limits.
There is no sign of banning the sale of novelty drinks such as Dragon Soop anytime soon. All we can do is raise awareness and educate in the hope that potential harm is reduced. Circle’s Young Persons’ Service will certainly do its share of awareness-raising with young people, parents and schools. It’s also a topic being explored at some of the Community Alcohol Partnerships in Edinburgh. As a partner, we are well placed to highlight the dangers and risks from the stories being told to us by some of the young people we are working with.