Summer Heat: Alcohol Effects & Safety
Well, the triple-digit temperatures are here to stay. Although it won’t officially be summer until the solstice on June 20th, the Arizona summer heat is definitely here. So crank up the A/C and break out the sunscreen! Kicking back by the pool with a cold drink is a great way to relax. But we need to be aware of how to stay healthy and safe in this summer heat. Keep in mind that the intense heat can have significant effects on how your body both manages alcohol and regulates itself.
It’s easy to get dehydrated in this climate. After all, it is a desert. Many people assume that since heat will dehydrate you faster, your alcohol tolerance level should drop. It’s true that a dehydrated person may feel the effects of alcohol more quickly. But the effects of intense heat can go beyond that.
Your body is a functioning machine that regulates its temperature, hydration levels, and other needs. When you’re tired, for example, your body will let you know. Drinking slows down these signals. Drinking in the summer heat may further impair your body’s ability to tell you what it needs, even when these needs are serious. Heat-induced dehydration can be sped up by alcohol and cause heat stroke if the body is unable to normally cool itself down. Heat exhaustion is common when overexposed to this extreme weather, and can be indicated by nausea, headache, weakness and dizziness, effects that can be attributed to alcohol as well and easily mistaken for being impaired. For those with high blood pressure, dehydration can even increase risk of stroke. You may not even realize it right away since alcohol slows down these signals. It’s very important to drink water in this heat especially when drinking, even though it’s easy to forget. Otherwise, an unrecognized heat-related illness can land you in the hospital with complications from severe dehydration, or at the very least with a bad headache.
Don’t be misled by the idea that drinking lots of water can “flush” the alcohol out of your body. This isn’t true. No matter what, your body will absorb alcohol. The total amount of water in your body, not water you drink, can affect alcohol absorption. Things such as body size, gender, and height have more of an effect on total body water. Alcohol is water-soluble, so the more body water a person has, the easier it is for alcohol in their body to disperse and be absorbed. Additionally, be aware that heat can also affect PBT readings, the handheld breath tests. Ambient heat, that oven-like AZ feeling we’re all familiar with, can sometimes create a false high reading on these tests. More disturbingly, if you’re running a temperature due to being overheated, studies show that your reading can be falsely high. Be careful, three glasses of water won’t cancel out three drinks, and even if your BAC is below the limit, the PBT may not reflect that.
If you plan on drinking outdoors this summer, make sure to drink enough water at the same time to prevent dehydration and other health problems. You can work on your tan, but also know when to retreat into the shade. The Arizona heat can seem merciless, so your best bet is to just be prepared for it.