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Alcoholism & Addiction

Mixing Water Sports and Alcohol Can Be Deadly

Water sports are fun and a great way to maintain general health and fitness. Combined with alcohol however, a healthy behavior can become a risky behavior. This is echoed by research from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and from physicians as well. The NIAA reports that fully one half of deaths related to water recreation involve alcohol. For this reason they urge outdoor fun-lovers everywhere to avoid drinking when they are engaging in water sport activities.

Whether in a pool or in the ocean, alcohol adds great risk to swimming. Just as it does for non-swimmers, alcohol negatively affects ones judgment while increasing the likelihood that they will engage in high risk behavior. For the ocean swimmer this could mean swimming further out than is actually safe or insensitivity to body temperature from an extended period in cold water leading to hypothermia. In some cases, the body loses its designed ability to drive blood to its core to maintain necessary body core temperature. For surfers it could mean choosing to attempt waves that don’t match their true skill level. Swimmers at the neighborhood pool are also at risk after consuming alcohol. Divers with impaired judgment may strike their head on the diving board or attempt to dive into water that is far too shallow.

Boating, even fishing, becomes more dangerous when alcohol is being consumed. In fact, alcohol is related to 60% of boating fatalities. Boat operators with as little as .1% blood alcohol content (BAC) have a 16x greater likelihood of dying in a boating accident compared to boat operators with 0% BAC. This is because not only judgment, but balance, vision and ability to react are all impaired when alcohol is consumed. Something as simple as standing in the boat can lead to tragedy when the person falls overboard because they were drinking alcohol.

Finally, not only will alcohol make it more likely for people on the water to end up in a dangerous situation, alcohol can also make it harder for those people to escape the danger. One example: drinking alcohol produces physiological changes that can affect a person’s ability to call for help. Normally, when water enters a person’s windpipe it precipitates a reflex action to close the windpipe. Alcohol can make it difficult for the person in danger to maintain an even and regular breathing pattern. In fact, alcohol can trigger spasms which close the airway entirely.

Water sports are part of the joy of summer. Sharing cocktails or a beer with friends in the great outdoors can also be a fun way to relax and enjoy the vacation months. It is important however to realize the inherent danger of combining these two pastimes and choose instead to enjoy your pleasures unmixed.

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