Topics: Spinal Cord Injury

The Danger of Swimming Under the Influence


Swimming can itself pose many threats; however, these threats increase dramatically in severity if the swimmer is under the influence of alcohol. There have been countless incidences of life-changing injuries, such as brain or spinal cord injuries (SCIs), paralysis, and even death occurring to those who swim under the influence from countries around the globe.

The Illusion Caused by Alcohol

One of the effects of alcohol is a forged and heightened sense of confidence. Alcohol provides a skewed view of one's capabilities, lulling people into a false sense of security and affecting an individual’s perception of distance, depth, and direction. Jerome Modell, author for the New England Journal of of Medicine, explains that a person who is under the influence of alcohol, or drugs, has an impaired reaction time and inappropriate judgement.

For example, alcohol could cause people to misjudge a water’s depth. Or if they hit their heads or spine during a dive, their reaction to return to the water’s surface may be slower than that of an unimpaired individual.

A Great Risk for Swimmers

Although perhaps one of the most obvious injuries from swimming under the influence comes from diving and jumping in depths too shallow, there are many other dangers. These include hypothermia, drowning, accidents on motorized water vehicles, or even run-ins with potentially harmful marine animals. Although there is the most obvious size difference between a swimming pool, lakes, rivers and the ocean, there are just as many potential hazards in all of the aforementioned.

Many articles and journals, including the Journal of Community Health, claim that young men are more likely than women to drown, more specifically between the ages of 18-34. Alcohol is cited as one of the most significant risk factors for drowning. In the study by DeVivo & Sekar, 86% of the 341 persons with spinal injuries resulting from swimming pool incidents were men, with an average age of 24 years.

The World Health Organization (WHO) claims “alcohol consumption is one of the most frequently reported contributory factors associated with adolescent and adult drownings in many countries.” Interestingly noted in the American Journal of Public Health by E. Press, when alcohol consumption is combined with the hot temperatures of hot tubs and spas, this can cause drowsiness and unconsciousness, which can lead also to drowning.

Community website, is an example of communities and governments calling out for further education against swimming whilst under the influence of alcohol. Health Minister Jone Usamate confirmed there had been seven recorded spinal cord injuries in 2015, caused by shallow water diving where the individuals were under the influence and misjudged the depth of the water. These cases mostly occurred in the holidays, and Usamate feels these happen after young people have been consuming alcohol.

Australian Medical Association President, Prof. Brian Owler, advises people to make sure they stay away from the water if they’ve been drinking, and to always be aware of the risks. Of course, when someone has been drinking alcohol, their judgement becomes impaired and decisions made can be subject to a lot of risk. Owler said: “Of the 350-400 cases of spinal cord injuries reported each year, nine percent are directly attributable to diving in shallow pools or surf, or from surfing.”

Swimming, as previously mentioned, is not the only water-based activity that can cause death when combined with alcohol consumption. There as many as 800 recreational boating fatalities in America annually, with alcohol being considered one of the main contributing causes. Often seen during holiday times, such as summer break and around New Year, trips out on boats and other aqua vehicles are common (as is the festive alcohol consumption). This can make for a lethal combination and cause potentially fatal accidents.

Play it Safe

There are numerous dangers of swimming (and other water-based activities) under the influence of alcohol. The way in which it can diminish a person’s faculties means decisions are made in poor judgement; potentially seeing otherwise sensible people undertaking dangerous and unwise actions.

To avoid the dangers of swimming under the influence of alcohol, it is important to recognize your limits, and when “enough is enough.” Unfortunately, especially in social situations like summer holidays, peer pressure can play a part in the actions of people who may not have initially considered them. Ensure you make sensible choices in when, what and how much to drink, and if this is appropriate for your surroundings and the situation you find yourself in.

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Bianca Chadda

Written by Bianca Chadda

By day Bianca Chadda works as a healthcare assistant for a mental health clinic but she also has a passion for writing. With a BA in Human Geography, and experience of both print and online editorial, she has extensive knowledge of academic research for editorial purposes that she enjoys applying to the healthcare industry.

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