After a few straight months of school, spring break is the one fleeting opportunity where we get to blow off steam and not worry about work, jobs or anything stressful. Almost like migrating birds, we drift south, to pretty much any place where the sun and beach are a guarantee: Mexico, Florida, the Caribbean—you name it and we’ll be there.
But with all of the flowing alcohol and day-to-night partying, it can be easy to get carried away. Having a cocktail on the beach under the sun may seem like a collegiette’s spring break paradise, but if taken too far, it can become a serious hazard to your health and overall well-being. So before you run to the beach with your third mango margarita in hand, be sure to take these factors into account!
1. You’re at a higher risk of becoming dehydrated
Whether you’re drinking in the Caribbean or at school, alcohol will always have a diuretic effect, which means that your body will lose the water you get in a drink, rather than absorb it. So if you’re planning to spend all day by the resort’s pool and make regular trips to the bar, be aware of how much water you are stripping from your body.
Dr. Darria Gillespie, a board-certified emergency physician at Emory University Hospital, says that though the risk of dehydration depends on the amount and type of drink you have, it’s best to balance out the alcohol with water. “I always advise people to alternate—between every alcoholic drink, drink eight ounces of water,” she says, which is the standard size of most mini water bottles. “[Water breaks] will both slow down the drinking AND keep you hydrated.”
2. Your body will overheat more quickly
Though the issue of overheating goes hand in hand with dehydration, it can be prevented by ways other than drinking water. If you’ve spent all morning lying out on the beach with your besties, consider hanging inside for a bit, or at least under a covered area where you are out of the sun’s direct rays. You know those super cool covered cabanas that many resorts have sitting by the pool? Snag one with your friends and spend some of your time there—that way you can still enjoy the outdoors without having the sun beat directly down on you.
You now know that outdoor exposure for hours while consuming alcohol can make you dehydrated, but did you know it can also increase your risk of heat stroke? According to Dr. Gillespie, any symptoms of a headache, dizziness, nausea and red skin could mean you are having a heat stroke. “If you notice you or your friends have any combination of heat stroke symptoms, it’s crucial to seek medical attention immediately,” she says. Of course, you don’t want it to get that far in the first place, so to avoid it, by staying out of direct sunlight for a period of time or jump into the pool to cool off. Drinking enough fluids will help counteract the heat as well, Dr. Gillespie says.
3. Operating a boat while intoxicated could be just as dangerous as drinking and driving
When it comes to your safety, alcohol and bodies of water don’t mix well. As you may have learned firsthand, heavy drinking can interfere with your balance, coordination and overall thought processes. We don’t want to spook you too much, but you know those tragic news stories that involve boat crashes and people falling overboard and drowning? Unfortunately, many of them have to do with alcohol consumption.
“Even if you’re a little intoxicated, waters that you can normally swim and survive if sober become far more challenging and disorienting,” Dr. Gillespie says. So if you’re a bit buzzed from the bottomless bar, or don’t feel quite like yourself, you should save the jet skiing excursion for when you’re sober and just stick to dry land until then.
4. Your chances of getting sunburn increase
When you’re busy hanging at the beach with friends and sipping cocktails, it can be easy to lose track of time; you likely won’t remember the last time you re-applied sunscreen. Dr. Gillespie says that alcohol consumption makes you less aware of how long you’ve been out, so what may have seemed like two hours out on the beach could really have been four and a half. And increased exposure to the sun just spells skin damage if you don’t regularly lather up with sunblock.
You definitely don’t want to fall asleep on your beach chaise and wake up four hours later with a full-body sunburn—that’ll definitely put a damper on the rest of your trip! So, be sure to carry your sunscreen in your beach bag and set a reminder on your phone to slather some more on every two hours, regardless of the level of SPF.
5. You may be at a higher risk for skin cancer
Aside from increasing your risk of sunburn, drinking under the rays may pose an even greater threat: skin cancer. According to WebMD, studies have shown that the ethanol in alcoholic drinks turns into a chemical compound that may make your skin more sensitive to light, which then makes your cells more prone to cancers like melanoma. While there’s still research to be done on the subject before the medical community reaches a wide consensus on the issue, it’s still something to be wary of next time you plan on spending the entire day working on your tan with a drink in hand.
An amazing spring break trip can easily end up among some of your fondest college memories, so make it memorable in the right way—by staying safe no matter what your plans are this year!