It's no secret that alcohol often causes people to take foolish risks while at the same time inhibiting their ability to think quickly and cope in critical situations. What many people do not realize, however, is the extraordinary number of drowning deaths that involve alcohol. Seventy five percent of all boating deaths are the result of drowning, according to the Coast Guard. And while estimates vary, studies have shown that alcohol may have been a factor in about 50 percent of all adult drowning deaths. Some studies put the figure as high as 70 percent. Drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional deaths among adults 20 to 44 years old.
Obviously, anyone who is dead drunk is going to have trouble swimming. But many of the people who drown are not legally drunk and researchers have found several reasons why even moderate amounts of alcohol may affect a person in the water.
Even if the person is a good swimmer and in good health, and has considerably less to drink than most at dinner, a combination of alcohol, too few carbohydrates, and exercise — in this case, swimming — meant that they run the risk of developing hypoglycemia, which is a drastic reduction in a person's glucose levels. Hypoglycemia causes sudden weakness, confusion and affects the body's normal temperature-regulating mechanisms. Medical researchers warn that alcohol and aquatic exercise without taking sufficient carbohydrates represents a "foolish confrontation with death."
Many people drown within easy reach of other swimmers. Recognizing drowning behavior is especially important because researchers have found that someone who is drowning lacks the lung capacity to call for help. Drowning victims act instinctively, moving his or her arms as though climbing a ladder, taking quick gulps of air, and then slipping back underwater. With an adult, this reflexive behavior lasts about 60 seconds before the victim sinks underwater for good. With a child, drowning behavior lasts only about 20 seconds. The struggle is quiet, and often looks "playful."
Drink responsibly and watch out for each other.