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The dangers of drinking in the summer heat

In the hot summer months, it can be tempting to crack open an ice-cold beer to cool off at a cookout, at a pool party or on a boat ride. But drinking too much alcohol in hot weather can set you up for dehydration and even heat illness, says Lena Beal, MS, RDN, LD, a therapeutic dietitian at Piedmont. Here’s how alcohol affects your body, particularly in the heat, and how to avoid overdoing it.

How alcohol affects your body

“When you’re out in the heat, your body temperature will usually increase,” says Beal. “This causes your blood vessels to dilate, which makes you more susceptible to fainting. And if you’re not well-hydrated, this can increase your risk of heat illness even more.”

When you add alcohol to this mix, it can make matters worse.

Alcohol slows the production of the body’s antidiuretic hormone (ADH),” she says. “This causes you to urinate more frequently and lose even more fluid.”

Losing fluid from drinking alcohol and being dehydrated from the heat creates a compound effect that can cause:

  • Dizziness

  • Nausea

  • Dry mouth

  • Loss of coordination

  • Confusion

  • Heat illness

  • Heat stroke

Some people mistake these signs for intoxication, but they may actually be the result of dehydration.

Being intoxicated and dehydrated is dangerous because it can lead to poor judgment, risky behavior and accidents from a lack of coordination and mental clarity. 

Drinking in the heat also increases your risk of heat illness.

“Being in the heat and drinking alcohol makes it hard for your body to regulate its temperature effectively,” she says. “This can lead to heat cramps from the loss of water and salt and even heat stroke, which can lead to organ failure.”

How to reduce your risk of dehydration and heat illness

Here are Beal’s tips to stay safe in the summer heat:

  • If you’re going to a party, drink plenty of water before, during and after the event.

  • Eat a meal before drinking alcohol. Having food in your stomach will help slow the absorption of alcohol.

  • Eat hydrating foods. This includes fresh fruits and vegetables, such as salad, watermelon or fruit popsicles with little to no added sugar.

  • Alternate alcoholic beverages with water. For every adult beverage you have, drink an 8- to 12-ounce glass of water.

  • Watch your serving sizes. A serving size of alcohol is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces (one shot glass) of spirits like rum, vodka, gin, tequila or whisky.

  • Limit caffeinated drinks. Most caffeinated drinks are diuretics, meaning they cause the body to lose water. This includes caffeinated soda, certain teas, energy drinks and coffee. Stick to decaf or water instead.

You don’t have to give up your favorite drinks this summer. Just pay attention to your body, stay hydrated and drink responsibly.                    

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