Old whine in new bottles
The 'adverse health effects' of summer drinking sound a lot like drunkenness.
If you think summer is the season to be tipsy – a time for liquid lunches and early evening pub-crawls – think again. According to ‘the experts’, alcohol consumption in hot weather can leave you dehydrated, disorientated and prone to accidents (in other words, drunk). ‘Hot weather and alcohol don’t mix’, says a US health educator. ‘Don’t let alcohol put a chill on your summer….’ (1)
Does having a tipple or 10 become more dangerous in the summer months? According to one report, drinking in hot weather makes you drunk quicker: ‘It can cause a loss of inhibitions, which leads to aggressiveness, poor judgement and recklessness.’ (2) The UK Department of Health warns that ‘hot weather speeds up the effects of alcohol’, and too much booze ‘will lead to dehydration’ (3).
Yet many factors influence how quickly we become drunk – and not all are sun-related. As one report points out, alongside heat there is food consumption (‘Food taken along with alcohol results in a delayed blood alcohol concentration peak’ -people who have eaten take longer to get drunk), and tiredness (‘Fatigue symptoms…will be amplified if alcohol intoxication is concurrent with fatigue’ – tired people get pissed quickly) (4).
As for alcohol-induced dehydration, that will be a familiar feeling to anyone who has ever had a hangover, whatever the weather. Throughout autumn, winter and spring, the majority of us cope perfectly well with differing ‘absorption rate factors’ (expert-talk for the things that determine how quickly we get inebriated) and post-night-on-the-tiles dehydration – why should summer be any different?
If the arguments against summer drinking are to be based on the alleged effects it has on our bodies, what about the claims that booze can have a ‘cooling effect’? During the winter months, health campaigners have been known to argue against alcohol consumption on the grounds that it can make you feel ‘flushed’, where blood is sent to the skin to ‘help you cool off’. That sounds like a good argument for summer drinking – though it’s a claim that has curiously disappeared from the anti-drinking lobby’s summer focus. Perhaps they’re saving it for a rainy day.
For all the health claims, the campaign against summer drinking seems to be driven by old prejudices against the demon drink. It is an old whine in new bottles, if you will, with a twist of summer. The ‘Summer drinking tips’ issued by the US National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence start off with season-specific claims about heat and alcohol potentially causing dehydration, but by tip number 7 we are back on more familiar territory: ‘Don’t drink if you are pregnant…. if you have had difficult keeping your drinking moderate in the past…. And if you are a woman, remember that alcohol will have a greater effect on you than it will on a man of your weight.’ (5)
And what exactly are the ‘adverse health effects’ of drinking in hot weather that campaigners are keen to flag up? ‘Heightened loss of inhibitions’; a ‘gradual dulling effect on the central nervous system’; ‘Poor judgement and recklessness’; ‘Normal situations turned into potentially dangerous ones’…. For most of us, those states of health and mind are otherwise known as drunkenness – that sense of abandon that can make drinking fun, especially in summertime, when the living is easy.
Not so for the alcohol awareness groups, who bemoan the many more opportunities for recklessness (drunkenness) that summer opens up. ‘[P]ublic houses and evening barbecues [tempt] everyone to drink alcohol at locations and times they would not otherwise normally do so’, warns one report (6). ‘The sunshine, warmth and long days of the summer season provide a wealth of opportunities for recreation and relaxation’, acknowledges a US health educator. ‘But when mixed with alcohol, these activities can turn dangerous and even deadly….’ (7)
Spoilsports. No doubt finding it difficult to argue against boozing it up at barbecues and drinking by rivers and canals, health campaigners instead opt for dubious claims about dehydration and blood pressure. Perhaps they should find a decent beer garden and drown their sorrows.
spiked-issue: Sun, sea and scaremongering
(1) Hot weather and alcohol don’t mix, Zhanda Malone, Edwardsville Intelligencer, 21 July 2003
(2) Hot weather and alcohol don’t mix, Zhanda Malone, Edwardsville Intelligencer, 21 July 2003
(3) Top 10 tips for surviving summer sun, UK Department of Health, 5 August 2003
(4) Factors that effect intoxication, Truman State University Alcohol Information
(5) Summer drinking tips, Mignon Quintyne, National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, June 2000
(6) Drink drive campaign to be launched, East Anglian Daily Times, 31 July 2003
(7) Hot weather and alcohol don’t mix, Zhanda Malone, Edwardsville Intelligencer, 21 July 2003
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