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The Dangers of Summer Drinking

Editor’s note: This Fourth of July weekend, millions of Americans will gather with their families for barbecues, boat outings and beach trips. But excessive drinking isn’t a good part of this festive mix. Here, from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, are some good reasons why drinking too much shouldn’t be part of your holiday:

Alcohol impairs judgment and increases risk-taking, the NIAAA says, which a dangerous combination for swimmers. Too much drinking may lead even experienced swimmers to venture out farther or swim longer than they should. By the time they notice they’re in trouble, they make not be able to make it back to shore, or they can get chilled and develop hypothermia. Surfers may try to ride a bigger wave than they should. And drinking can be fatal even if the water is shallow: Drunk divers may go headfirst into water that’s not meant for diving, or collide with a diving board.

Boating is also a likely place for alcohol-related tragedies. The NIAAA says that its research has shown that drinking may be involved in 60 percent of boating fatalities, including falling overboard. A boat operator with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of over 0.1 percent is 16 times likelier to be killed in a boating accident than an operator who has no alcohol in his or her system.

The NIAAA says that according to the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, alcohol can negatively affect a boater’s judgment, balance, vision, and reaction time. And it can increase fatigue and make a person more susceptible to the effects of being immersed in cold water. Boaters who are intoxicated are also less likely to be able to solve navigation or mechanical problems. There are problems for passengers as well; they can slip on the deck or fall overboard or have an accident at the dock.

The NIAA warns against the myth that drinking beer or wine is somehow better than drinking alcohol. “A drink is a drink” the institute says in a consumer alert. It is your BAC, not what you drank, that determines how intoxicated you are. And despite what you may have heard Fact: It doesn’t matter what type of alcohol you chose to consume—a drink is a drink. Your blood alcohol content (also known as BAC, the percentage of alcohol in your blood) is what determines how drunk you are.

And don’t believe the hype that coffee will sober you up. It may help with drowsiness, the NIAAA says, Myth: Drink coffee. Caffeine will sober you up. According to the NIAAA experts, the body must metabolize alcohol before you return to a normal state. Only time can do that.

The summer heat can also be a dangerous factor. Heat and alcohol don’t mix and can be dangerous. Heat causes fluid loss through perspiration, and alcohol does the same thing via urination. As a result, you can become dehydrated very quickly and vulnerable to heat stroke.

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