Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.See all posts »
Alcohol at the Beach
In continuing with the theme of getting ready for the beach and water sports this summer, let's consider what to do about substance abuse. There is no controversy whatsoever about the fact that persons under the influence of alcohol or any other mind-altering substance have a higher incidence of accidents. In fact, ingestion of alcohol figures prominently as a statistic in falls, drownings, motor vehicle accidents and virtually every variety of activity that has ever been studied. The issue, then, is not whether or not alcohol contributes to illness and injury, but to what extent we are able to control its use by reason and, when necessary, prohibition.
Im June of 2008, Solana Beach, California banned alcohol consumption on its beaches for at least a year. This ban continues. Here is what appears on the city's website:
Alcoholic Beverages – Alcohol is banned at all beach areas in Solana Beach. Alcohol is also prohibited in the parking lot, community center, viewpoint or any other public place adjacent to the beach. Glass is prohibited as well.
There are similar rules at, among others, Torrey Pines State Beach, Cardiff, San Elijo, South Carlsbad and Carlsbad state beaches.
City officials made this move proactively, to avoid the sorts of tragedies and social problems that have intermittently plagued "wet" beaches. Recognizing that judgment is often an irrelevant factor when it comes to drinking alcohol, they made a strong and, in my opinion, laudable move. Like it or not, judgment is impaired by drinking alcohol, so the concept of "responsible drinking" is an oxymoron when water sports and potentially hazardous surf conditions coexist with beer, wine, and liquor. Of course, the same is true for certain prescription drugs and illicit drugs.
Needless to say, civil libertarians and numerous other individuals are opposed to mandated prohibitions. They cite lack of observation of problems, principles of freedom and personal rights, and even the loss of romanticism. The issue obviously has two sides.
From a safety perspective, it's a no-brainer. There's no benefit to drinking alcohol and entering the ocean. It can never make you safer, and can only make you less safe. Even if you are able to drink alcohol at the beach and safely dispose of your metal cans and glass bottles, not litter, not be rowdy or obnoxious, and keep your drinking to yourself, the moment you dip a toe, you are a greater risk to yourself and to the lifeguards and other rescuers entrusted to protect you. You may not believe that to be the case, but the stories and statistics don't support you. Having pulled intoxicated victims from the water, treated them at the scene, stitched their heads and set their broken bones in the emergency department, and having had to tell their families and friends that they are dead (while knowing that none of this would have ever happened had the victims been sober), I am offering well-intentioned advice. Not every city will mandate that you leave your beer cooler at home when you head to the beach. When you need to be the one to decide, choose wisely.
photo courtesy of www.aquaticsafetygroup.com
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