Alcohol, Heat and Dehydration: Another Reason to Keep the Alcohol Away this Summer
Heat + alcohol = trouble. Hot summer days lead to fluid loss through sweat, while alcohol consumption causes fluid loss through increased urination and other factors. Combined, the two quickly lead to dehydration and heat-related illnesses like heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Further, alcohol consumption during outdoor summer activities comes with other health risks.
Given that the summer of 2022 is predicted to be one of the hottest summers on record, Americans would do well to leave the alcohol on the liquor store shelves and instead drink lots of water.
Alcohol and Dehydration
Though alcohol is a fluid and is mostly comprised of water, it does not hydrate the body as water does. In fact, alcohol dehydrates the body, leading to a net fluid loss, not a fluid gain. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the chemicals in alcohol suppress the release of vasopressin, a hormone produced in the brain that sends signals to the kidneys, causing them to retain fluid. The result? Alcohol increases urination and the excess loss of fluids. That leads to dehydration, a harmful physiological condition that worsens hangover symptoms and can contribute to heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
In an ABC report, one scientist sought to explain the effects of alcohol on the body’s hydration. In this report, the scientist concisely defined the biological phenomena involved in how and why alcohol causes dehydration, even though alcohol is a water-based fluid. The article is worth reading, but to summarize the findings, Dr. Karl says, “So if you drink 200 milliliters of beer, the end result is 200 milliliters of water. But you don’t urinate just 200 milliliters of urine. No! You urinate a total of about 320 milliliters of urine. So in general, each shot of alcohol makes you urinate an extra 120 milliliters of urine on top of your normal urine output.” The body expels more water than it takes in when heightened levels of alcohol are in the bloodstream, hence the dehydration and other health risks that often come with alcohol consumption.
Alcohol Abuse and Summer Accidents and Injuries
Beyond the risks for dehydration brought on by alcohol consumption, research suggests Americans put themselves at heightened risk for accidents when they consume alcohol and engage in summer activities. Based on NIAAA research:
- Up to 70% of water recreation deaths involving teens and adults involve the use of alcohol.
- Alcohol impairs judgment and can lead to increased risk-taking, posing severe risks to swimmers, divers, and surfers.
- Alcohol consumption is particularly dangerous to boaters, with at least 18% of boating deaths being caused by alcohol-impaired boat operation, making alcohol the single leading cause of boating deaths. A boat operator with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or higher is 14 times more likely to be killed in a boating accident than an operator with no alcohol in their system. Even just one alcoholic beverage increases a boat operator’s chances of an accident.
- Alcohol consumption increases people’s susceptibility to cold water immersion, meaning intoxicated persons are more likely to experience hypothermia than sober individuals.
- People who consume alcohol are statistically less likely to wear sunscreen than those who don’t. Further, alcohol consumption lowers the amount of sun exposure needed to produce sunburns, putting one at risk for skin cancers and other skin-related ailments.
The above is by no means a complete list, but one can quickly see how alcohol consumption combined with summer activities leads to a higher risk for accidents, injuries, illnesses, and even death.
Summer 2022 is Shaping Up to Be a Hot One
Recent weather alerts from multiple sources suggest that the summer of 2022 will be one of the hottest on record. An early summer heatwave already struck many of the lower 48 U.S. states, causing record-breaking temperatures in June that affected more than 100 million Americans. Other weather reports published in the spring of 2022 predicted hot temperatures in the summer, monsoon rains and severe flooding in wetter parts of the lower 48, and particularly dry, drought-level conditions in the more arid parts of the U.S.
Much of these predictions have already born out, with the hottest temperatures still to come. Since hot weather plays a direct role in spiking heat-related emergencies, Americans must take extra precautions to ensure they stay hydrated, as proper hydration is the first defense against heat-related harm.
Stay Hydrated with Water
Medical experts at the Mayo Clinic suggest that a healthy adult living in a temperate climate should consume the following:
- Approximately 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids a day for men
- Approximately 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day for women
However, it’s important to note that people should increase their water intake when spending time outside in a hot environment. This is especially true if the individual is working or exercising. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- People should drink water before they go out into the heat. Being hydrated before exposing oneself to warm temperatures (and then continuing to drink water throughout the day) makes it easier for the body to stay hydrated.
- People should also drink water before they feel thirsty, as thirst is an indication that the body is already insufficiently hydrated and is approaching dehydration.
- When working in the heat, adults should drink one cup (eight ounces) of water every 15-20 minutes. That translates to approximately one quart per hour or one gallon of water every four hours.
- The CDC also recommends that it is better to drink smaller quantities of water at shorter intervals than it is to consume large quantities of water infrequently.
- Individuals should not consume more than 1.5 quarts of water per hour, as drinking too much water can reduce the salt concentration in the blood, leading to a medical emergency.
The CDC strongly discourages people from consuming alcohol in hot weather. Quoting their findings, “Alcohol can cause dehydration.” And, “Drinking alcohol within 24 hours of working in the heat can increase the risk of heat illness.” It seems that alcohol is not only harmful to the body when consumed during hot weather, but it can also be harmful for up to one day after working in a hot environment.
In conclusion, Americans must be particularly mindful of staying hydrated this summer, lest the extremely high temperatures predicted to occur cause dehydration and heat illness.
And despite the social incentives and pressures to drink alcohol at summer gatherings and the clever yet misleading marketing campaigns that promote alcohol as a thirst quencher, Americans should avoid alcohol during summer activities, particularly those activities involving hot weather, physical exertion, and extended periods of time spent outdoors.
- NIAAA. “Hangovers.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2022. niaaa.nih.gov
- ABC. “Why Does Drinking Alcohol Cause Dehydration?” ABC Science, 2012. abc.net.au
- NIAAA. “Risky Drinking can Put a Chill on Your Summer Fun.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2022. niaaa.nih.gov
- PBS. “Heat Wave Bakes Parts of the U.S.; More than 100 Million Affected.” PBS News Hour, 2022. pbs.org
- AccuWeather. “Accuweather's 2022 US Summer Forecast.” AccuWeather, 2022. accuweather.com
- Mayo Clinic. “Water: How Much Should You Drink Every Day?” Mayo Clinic, 2020. mayoclinic.org
- CDC. “Heat Stress: Hydration.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017. cdc.gov