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Drinking and summer activities: a risky mix

Summer’s officially here – and with it comes warm weather, Fourth of July fireworks, boating and the variety of outdoor activities that make living in Oregon so enjoyable.

It’s also a time when many of us are tempted to drink more alcohol than usual. After all, what’s a day on the water without a couple of six packs – or cases? Or a Fourth of July party? Or a camping trip?

That’s why this time of year, agencies regularly warn against boating under the influence. That’s also why, at Serenity Lane, we encourage people to stay sober around fireworks the same way they’d choose a designated driver.

There are all kinds of good reasons to heed this advice, but here’s the real one: alcohol can make you stupid.

OK, maybe that’s a little harsh. Maybe it’s better to say that alcohol can contribute to people doing stupid things. And it takes far less than you’d think to have that effect.

Dictionary.com defines the word stupid as “lacking ordinary quickness and keenness of mind.” That’s exactly what alcohol does: it slows and dulls the mind. Science has proven that alcohol – any alcohol – slows thinking and reaction time.

There’s also no question that alcohol adversely affects judgment. Judgment is defined as the ability to make rational choices, to weigh pros and cons and, ultimately, to make decisions that minimize risk.

Just listen to country music for a little while and you’ll hear exactly how alcohol can affect judgment. How many of us regret decisions we’ve made while drinking? Parents rightfully fear the potentially poor choices their children will make if partying with their friends includes alcohol, from sexual activity to driving a car after drinking.

But you only have to think about summer activities to see how we actually need our “ordinary quickness and keenness of mind” more, not less, when enjoying them.

Boating’s a good example. While it’s common to drink while boating, it’s easy to forget that you’re maneuvering powerful water craft, often at high speeds, in waves that fatigue the body and mind, over water cold enough to cause serious problems of its own should you end up in it. This is why laws governing boating under the influence are being enforced more strongly than ever before.

Fireworks are another example. They’re fun, of course, but if you insist on playing with things that explode and/or burn at high temperatures, you want to have faster reaction time and better judgment, not slower and poorer. Emergency room visits always spike during fireworks season, and alcohol is often a factor.

Even some outdoor activities like hiking, backpacking or climbing carry risks that are heightened by alcohol. A friend of mine reports that once, when climbing Mount Hood, his party of climbers passed another group that had only brought beer with them. The story is humorous, but it could have easily been tragic. People are injured or die in the back country for less serious errors in judgment than that.

None of this is to say that you shouldn’t enjoy alcohol during summer activities. Just remember that somebody needs to keep their quickness and keenness of mind when important decisions are made that affect everyone’s safety. Not doing so is, well, stupid.


Written by Jerry Gjesvold. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer.

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