5 Ways to Stay Safe With Alcohol This Summer

group of friends drinking at a summer party

Summer is a time for gatherings and adventures, and for many people, that means having a few drinks with friends. Here are a few tips from Dan Vinson, MD, a family medicine physician at MU Health Care who specializes in alcohol use and abuse, on how to partake this summer while keeping yourself safe and healthy.

1. Watch your portions

“A drink is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of liquor,” Dr. Vinson says. Throwing back three pints (16 ounces) of beer means you’ve consumed four servings of alcohol. Pay attention with mixed drinks, too — many contain more than one serving of liquor.

2. Know your limits

“In the U.S., the standard recommendation is that a man shouldn’t drink more than four drinks in one day, and a woman shouldn’t have more than three,” Dr. Vinson says. At the same time, though, “a man should not have more than 14 drinks a week — an average of two per day or less — and seven a week for women — one per day or less.”

These recommendations come from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Studies show that exceeding those recommendations can have adverse effects on your health. Dr. Vinson cites a study published in the British Medical Journal that found evidence of brain damage in people who drink moderately over long periods of time. Heavy drinking can lead to a host of serious health problems.

3. Appoint a designated boater

Boating accidents can be deadly, and navigating busy waterways while intoxicated is a recipe for disaster. If you plan to hit the lake this summer, make sure that whoever is driving the boat has not had anything to drink. “State law uses .08 [as a rule for intoxicated driving], but alcohol levels of half that much impair performance and are associated with an increased risk of an accident,” Dr. Vinson says.

4. Save the drinks for later

Alcohol can affect the way you move while swimming or playing sports, which raises your risk of injury. A study observed people diving into a pool before and after consuming a couple of drinks. The way they hit the water after drinking made them more likely to hit their heads on the bottom.

“I think that if someone is going to be boating, swimming, driving, my advice is, don’t drink at all,” Dr. Vinson cautions. “The risk of injury is just too great. If you’re going to enjoy an afternoon on the lake, great! Have something [nonalcoholic] to drink because it’s going to be hot, but save the beer and wine until you get back to where you’re staying. Then kick back, relax, and have a beer or two. Don’t drink in situations where it could be hazardous.”

5. Hydrate between drinks, and be mindful of the heat

Sitting out in the sun and heat while drinking, you may stand up and feel a bit woozier than you expected. “It could be because you’re dehydrated or because it’s hot, so you’re thirstier and drink more beer than you would otherwise,” Dr. Vinson says. “That’s why you’d feel it more — because you’ve had four or five instead of two or three.”

“A 12-ounce beer doesn’t hydrate you as well as a 12-ounce glass of water, as boring as that is,” he adds. Alcoholic drinks can act as diuretics, which means they make you urinate more frequently. Dr. Vinson recommends having a glass of water after every alcoholic beverage to make sure you stay hydrated, no matter the time of year.

Questions about alcohol or other safety issues this summer? Contact an MU Health Care primary care physician to make an appointment.

Read more stories like this