Alcohol is a common accompaniment to many of the most popular and beloved summer activities: backyard barbecues, boat rides, outdoor dinner parties, or long afternoons by the pool with friends.
But how do you know when you cross the line into drinking too much? Most of us would categorize our drinking habits as responsible, but a variety of factors can intensify the impact of alcohol -- and weather is one of them. As the days get warmer and the summer sun beckons you to cool off with an ice-cold beer or a refreshing cocktail, it's important to understand how drinking affects your body and brain so you can practice moderate drinking.
Summer Heat: Alcohol's Worst Mixer
Thirst and dehydration are part and parcel of the summer heat. When you're drinking in the warm weather, it's easy to grab another beer or cocktail in lieu of water, but that impulse may be counterproductive.
Alcohol is a diuretic. That means it causes you to lose water and has a continued dehydrating effect on your body if you're already dehydrated. When you're feeling parched in the summer sun, grab a bottle of water, a seltzer, or a coconut water, which contains electrolytes. Alcohol, though, will only make your dehydration worse.
Alcohol and Water: A Dangerous Combo?
When you're lounging on the beach or out on a boat with your friends, having a beverage in hand is often a mainstay of the experience. And while there's nothing wrong with having a beer, a cocktail, or a glass of wine while you're out on the water, you'll need to be mindful if you go for an alcoholic refreshment.
As you know, drinking impairs your physical and mental abilities. Those impairments can be even more deadly depending on your environment, and that includes being on or near the water. Alcohol is involved in up to 70 percent of water recreation deaths among teens and adults, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Drinking can cause swimmers to misjudge their abilities and venture out farther into open water than is safe. It also makes it harder to tell how cold the water is, increasing the risk of hypothermia. Poolside, divers could collide with a diving board or dive where the water is too shallow, and surfers who've had one too many may try to ride a wave that they can't actually handle and wind up injured.
In addition, boat operators with a blood alcohol concentration of over 0.1 percent -- the equivalent of about four to five drinks -- are 16 times more likely to be killed in a boating accident than those who haven't had anything to drink, as NIH reports. When faced with a problem, intoxicated boaters may not able to think quickly and solve it, and passengers might slip on deck, fall overboard, or have an accident on the dock.
Suffice it to say, it's important to be extra-cautious when mixing alcohol with water. (Don't be afraid to opt for a Poland Spring after a Bud Light, though.)
Where to Draw the Line
We've all heard the recommendation to keep our drinking moderate, but what exactly does that mean? Typically, moderate alcohol consumption means up to one drink per day for women or up to two drinks per day for men. The type of alcohol isn't as important as the alcohol content. With most beverage brands, one drink means a 12-ounce beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine, or 1.5 fluid ounces of a distilled spirit.
Alcohol and summer fun can mix if you're mindful of how much you're drinking along with the heat, dehydration, and other risks of being outdoors and around water. If you observe moderation and avoid drinking too much, you'll be sure to stay happy and healthy while enjoying yourself all summer long.