Drinking outside this weekend? Here's how much alcohol is too much. (2024)

Clare MulroyUSA TODAY

Summer is in full swing and beverage companies are in high gear advertising beach-ready canned co*cktails, spiked lemonades and summer ales.When you're relaxing in the sun, it can be tempting to bring along an adult beverage.

Let this serve as a reminder to consider your safety when summertime drinking – 31% of drowning deaths involve ablood alcohol concentration (BAC) over the legal limit.

Thinking of bringing a drink to yournext outdoor gathering? We asked the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism how to stay safe this summer.

How much alcohol is too much?

It’s best to drink in moderation if you're drinking at all. You should remain within theDietary Guidelines for Americans: no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women.

“When you get beyond one or two drinks, which are the dietary guidelines, then alcohol becomes a toxin and can cause or exacerbate about 200 different kinds of diseases and conditions,” saysGeorge Koob,the director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

What is the legal alcohol limit?

The legal limit across the U.S. is 0.08%. This means you are considered intoxicated if your BAC is above this number. Most states also have a 0.02% or 0.00%“zero tolerance” policythat applies to drivers under 21 or commercial drivers.

Your blood alcohol level is the amount of alcohol in your blood, which increases as you drink. It can beaffected by your age, weight,how quickly you’re drinking, how much you’re drinking and if you are drinking on an empty stomach.

“You definitely should not get behind the wheel of a car, get in a boat to go boating or go swimming if you have a blood alcohol at the legal limits,” Koob says.

What is considered heavy drinking?

Here’s how NIAAA definesheavy drinking:

  • Women: Four or more drinks on a given day, more than 8 per week
  • Men: Five or more drinks on a given day, more than 15 per week

Binge drinking is a pattern of drinking alcohol that increases the BAC to 0.08 or higher. For adults, this is five or more drinks for men and four or more for women in two hours. Binge drinking and heavy drinking can increase your risk of an alcohol use disorder.

If you’re drinking, keep in mind what theguide for a standard drinkis. One drink is a beverage containing 14 grams of pure alcohol, so one standard drink could be any of the following:

  • 12 ounces of beer (typically 5% alcohol)
  • 5 ounces of wine (12% alcohol)
  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (40% alcohol)

What happens when you drink alcohol every day?

Alcohol is anaddictive substance.

Aside from the withdrawal symptoms from daily alcohol use, Koob says alcohol affects “every organ in the body” and can increase the odds of or exacerbate liver disease, hepatitis, pancreatitis, gastrointestinal problems, cognitive and neurological disorders, arrhythmia and cardiovascular disease.

Alcohol is arisk factor for many cancers, like mouth, throat, esophagus, colon, breast cancer and more. According to the American Cancer Society, alcohol use accounts for about 6% of all cancers and 4% of cancer deaths in the U.S.

How to drink responsibly this summer

Whether you’re setting aside a six-pack for the beach or grabbing a few co*cktails on vacation, here’s what you need to know about drinking in the heat:

Stay hydrated

You’ll want to keep the water flowing in hot temperatures, especially when drinking. Alcohol acts as a diuretic, which means it dehydrates you because it makes you have to urinate more, Koob says.

“If you’re sweating a lot and you have alcohol on board, you’re more likely to get dehydrated, which can lead to a sudden increase in body temperature which can be very serious,” Koob says. “Heat stroke is not a trivial issue.”

Apply and reapply sunscreen

According to the NIAAA, people who drink alcohol while in the sun are less likely to apply sunscreen in the first place. Alcohol alsolowers the sun exposure levelsneeded to burn, which can increase the risk of skin cancer. Choose at least 30 SPF and use a full ounce of sunscreen, experts previously told USA TODAY.

Be careful in the water

You don’t just have to exercise caution when getting behind the wheel – be careful with driving a boat or swimming while intoxicated.

A third of drowningsinvolve blood alcohol level above the legal limit,” Koob says. “Same for boating, a quarter of the deaths associated with boating accidents the individual has a blood alcohol level above the legal limit.”

Riptides can be dangerous even when not intoxicated – riptides in Alabama and Floridakilled 10people in just two weeks in June 2023. Alcohol slows down your brain, bodily functions and reaction time, so when intoxicated you may have a harder time getting yourself out of a potentially deadly situation.

Keep food and non-alcoholic drinks nearby

Sandwiches and snacks make a delicious addition to a beach day, but they’re also important when you’re drinking out in the sun.

“They basically blunt the absorption of alcohol and spread it out over time so you don’t get those peaks that get you really dizzy or uncoordinated,” Koob says.

It’s also important to have non-alcoholic beverage options available, Koob says. Having water, sparkling water or juice handy can keep you hydrated while drinking alcohol. It can also remove a social stigma some feel when opting not to drink.

“There are people who don’t want to drink, people who shouldn’t drink, there are people who can’t drink because of the effects that it has interacting with their meds,” Koob says.

Have a designated driver

No matter where you’re headed or how long you’re staying there, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Figure out a plan ahead of time, call a lift home on a rideshare app or call a family member instead ofgetting behind the wheel drunk.

How to detox from alcohol

If you’re looking to cut alcohol from your life, you can try a mocktail or other non-alcoholic beverage as a replacement or try a challenge like“Dry January.”

Sometimes, it’s not that easy. If you’re struggling with your relationship with alcohol, Koob recommends first evaluating your habits against the NIAAA’s11 symptoms of alcohol use disorder.

One of the biggest red flags is impaired social and occupational functioning, Koob says. This could be deteriorating interactions with other people or emotional swings during conversations, irritability with loved ones, chronic irritability at work, productivity or performance issues at work, missed assignments, inability to show up on time, sleep disturbances and other changes. When these add up, it's time to reevaluate your relationship with alcohol.

“If you don’t drink (for a bit) and you feel better, then your body is trying to tell you something,” Koob says. “Listen to your body.”

If you need assistance, Koob recommends talking to your primary care physician or thumbing through the NIAAA’s treatment navigator. The tool can provide options based on where you fall on the spectrum of alcohol use disorders, including therapy-based treatment, counseling sessions, Alcoholics Anonymous, outpatient facilities and medications.

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Drinking outside this weekend? Here's how much alcohol is too much. (2024)

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