Sun and Alcohol: A Dangerous Cocktail

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Barbecues, beaches, and bonfires. Bring on the sunshine and summer fun.

Sipping on summer spirits adds a zest to sunny season for many. . However, drinking alcohol when temperatures heat up should be done responsibly and can become dangerous if you’re not careful. Thai Nguyen, MD, UnityPoint Health explains five ways the sun and alcohol affect your body, making a mixture of the two a cautionary cocktail.

5 Risks of Drinking Alcohol in the Summer Sun

1. Heat Stroke: Alcohol combined with high temperatures means your body may not be able to regulate its own temperature effectively. Heat illness can present itself in 3 phases. The first is heat cramps from the loss of essential water and sodium. The second phase is heat exhaustion caused by the dehydration. Lastly, heat stroke is the final phase and could lead to shock or organ failure.

  • Phase 1: Heat cramps from the loss of essential water and sodium.
  • Phase 2: Heat exhaustion caused by dehydration.
  • Phase 3: The most serious, heat stroke, which can lead to shock or organ failure.

2. Dehydration: Both alcohol and the sun cause dehydration. Alcohol is a diuretic, and the sun causes you to sweat to stay cool. If you’re drinking in the hot sun, you may be losing fluids twice as quickly and be at risk of dehydration. Make sure to drink water throughout the day and in between alcoholic beverages.

3. Boating Accidents: Nearly a third of all boating fatalities involve alcohol. People lose their ability to accurately judge situations or handle large machinery the more they drink. Whether the boat is moving or anchored, remember to always wear a lifejacket on board and in the water, too.

4. Drowning: Just like you shouldn’t drink and drive, don’t drink and dive, either. It’s easy to misjudge the depth of the water or the strength of the current. Similarly, if you’re drinking in or near water, you may lack the coordination and energy to stay afloat or run the risk of passing out in the water.

5. Car Accidents: With more people on the road over the summer, drinking and driving becomes more problematic. Don't risk it. If you know a friend or family member has been drinking, give them a ride home or offer a couch for them to crash on to keep them and other drivers safe.

The Effects of Alcohol and Sunshine: More Alike Than You Might Think

Reckless Behavior

Summer activities like biking can become reckless when alcohol is involved. It disrupts common reasoning skills, which leads to impulsive and dangerous behaviors. Combining alcohol and physical activity leads to a higher risk of injury, as well, so if you’re enjoying drinks with friends in between hitting the trails, know your limits and how many beverages you can consume. It will help you and others stay safe on the ride.


Soaking up the sun outside without drinking enough water can cause dehydration. Your body sweats to cool itself off in the summer sunshine and if those fluids aren't replaced, your body will react negatively. Alcohol depletes your body of fluids through urination. If you don't drink enough water and drink too much alcohol, you may notice symptoms like dizziness, headache, dry mouth and nausea.

Dilated Blood Vessels

Fainting when overheated and "blacking out" when drunk are caused by similar factors. After spending time in the sun, your body warms up and your blood vessels dilate. Dilated blood vessels make you more susceptible to fainting or passing out if you’re not properly hydrated. Drinking alcohol dilates blood vessels and leads to similar results.

Tips for Drinking Safely in the Sun

If you’re still intent on indulging in the summer rays, here’s how you can help counteract dehydration:

  • Drink 8 ounces of water for every alcoholic drink
  • Dilute your alcohol and consume it at a steady pace
  • Avoid mixing different alcohols or caffeinated drinks with alcohol
  • If you notice symptoms of dehydration, seek a cool place, stop drinking alcohol and try to hydrate with water.