August / September 2015

Summertime and the risks of alcohol use

Summer is a wonderful time for outdoor activities with family and friends—barbecues, pool parties and trips to the lake or beach—during this season of great weather and longer days.

One way people often deal with the heat is to reach for a cold drink containing alcohol, but extreme heat and alcohol can be a recipe for injuries, illness, and even death. Drinking impairs both physical and mental abilities as well as decreases inhibitions – which can lead to reckless behavior and tragic consequences on the water, on the road, or outdoors. In fact, research shows that alcohol use is a factor in up to 50 percent of adolescent and adult deaths associated with water recreation and nearly one-third of boating fatalities involve alcohol use (Center for Disease Control and Prevention).

In the United States, a driver with a .08 blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is legally defined as drunk. But even at .02 BAC a person’s tracking abilities can be impaired. At .08 BAC, the effects of alcohol on a person’s speech, vision, balance, and reaction time greatly diminish one’s ability to swim or operate watercraft safely.

An important thing to remember is that alcohol lowers the body’s tolerance for heat and acts as a diuretic, thus speeding up dehydration and affecting the body’s ability to regulate temperature. If fluids in the body are not replaced, dehydration can be life threatening. Alcohol also raises the body’s blood pressure, increasing the risk of a heat related illness.

Myths and Facts:

Myth: If you drink just beer or wine, you’ll be fine.

Fact: It doesn’t matter what type of alcohol you choose to drink. Alcohol is alcohol. Your blood alcohol content (BAC), meaning the percentage of alcohol in your blood, is what determines how drunk you are.

Myth: Drink coffee. Caffeine will help sober you up.

Fact: Caffeine may help with drowsiness, but not with the effects of alcohol on decision making or coordination. The body needs time to metabolize alcohol and return to normal. There are no quick ways to sober up. Only time will help.

Stay hydrated

The key is to stay hydrated, whether you are on the road, or outside by the pool or beach.

>> Drink plenty of fluids. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink water.

>> Choose fluids carefully. A sports beverage can replace the minerals you lose while sweating. Try to avoid liquids that contain large amounts of sugar, which can lead to dehydration.

>> If you are the host of a party, be sure to provide plenty of cold nonalcoholic drinks to keep your guests well hydrated.

>> If you know you’ll be driving, stay away from alcohol.

>> If you do plan to drink alcohol at an outdoor venue, make at least every other drink a nonalcoholic one to insure you’ll stay hydrated.

You can have fun in the sun and still be safe. Avoiding beverages that cause mental and physical impairment while driving a car, piloting a boat, swimming or enjoying outdoor activities is a good starting place. Think before you drink this summer, so that you and your loved ones can enjoy this summer and many more to come.

Call TARP (Teamsters Alcohol/Drug Rehabilitation Program) at (800) 522-8277 or TAP (Teamsters Assistance Program) at (800) 253-8326 if you or a loved one would like more information on this subject or our services.