Summer, Alcohol And Prescription Medication: A Deadly Cocktail!

Barbecues, beaches, bonfires and booze. Just a few of the things we think of when we mention summertime! With the longer days and warmer weather, many feel inclined to indulge in alcoholic drinks with friends, family or alone when we think we want to relax and cool down. A cold drink on a hot day is as refreshing as it gets, as long as you are picking up the right drink. Indulging in alcoholic drinks should be done responsibly and unfortunately, a lot of summer activities can become dangerous when alcohol is involved. The ways the hot weather and alcohol affect your body are more similar than you may think, making a mixture of the two a dangerous cocktail.

5 Risks of Drinking Alcohol in the Summer Sun

1. Heat Stroke: Alcohol combined with high temperatures means your body may not be able to regulate it’s own temperature effectively. Heat stroke can present itself in 3 phases. The first is heat cramps from the loss of essential water, sodium and other vital contents in our bodies. The second phase is heat exhaustion caused by the dehydration. Lastly, heat stroke is the final phase and could lead to shock, brain damage, organ failure or death.

2. Dehydration: Both alcohol and the sun cause dehydration. Alcohol is a diuretic, and the sun causes you to sweat to stay cool. If you are drinking in the hot sun, you may be losing fluids twice as quickly as you think, even though you think you’re drinking to hydrate and stay cool when you’re not.

3. Boating/Activity Accidents: Nearly 1/3 of all boating fatalities involve alcohol and alcohol use is attributed in up to 50 percent of teen and adolescent deaths. Sadly, people lose their ability to judge accurately or handle large machinery the more they drink. Likewise, once we’ve been drinking, our ability to judge what is right and wrong or dangerous or fun becomes impaired. This means something you may think would be fun to do in the sunshine once you’ve had a drink can quickly get out of hand and cause injury, illness or death to you or others.

4. Drowning: If you are drinking in or near water, you may lack needed coordination and energy to stay afloat or run the risk of passing out in the water as alcohol can lower your level of consciousness.

5. Car Accidents: With many people taking road trips over the summer, drinking and driving is a large danger. Don’t risk it this summer and “booze-cruise.” If you know that a friend or family member has been drinking, give them a ride home or offer them your sofa for them to crash on to keep them and other drivers safe, even if it is just one drink!

The Effects of Alcohol and Sunshine: More Alike Than You Might Think

Reckless Behavior

Summer activities including biking, hiking, boating and more can become reckless very quickly. You could easily become distracted out on the water or riding downhill quickly on a bike. Known as “liquid courage,” alcohol is known for giving people a sense of bravery and lack of common reasoning skills, which leads to reckless and dangerous behaviors. Alcohol and physical activity combined could lead to a higher risk of injury.


Soaking up the sun outside without proper liquid intake can cause dehydration. Your body sweats to cool itself off in the summer sunshine and, if those fluids aren’t replaced, your body will begin to react negatively. Alcohol depletes your body of fluids through urination. If you don’t drink enough water when outside on one occasion and you drink too much alcohol on another occasion, you may notice your body reacting in similar ways. Symptoms can include dizziness, headache, dry mouth, and nausea among others.

Dilated Blood Vessels

What is known as fainting when overheated and “blacking out” when drunk are caused by similar factors. After spending time in the sun, your body begins to warm up, and your blood vessels begin to dilate. Dilated blood vessels make you more susceptible to fainting or passing out if you are not also properly hydrated. Drinking alcohol also causes dilated blood vessels in a similar way and causes similar results.

Prescription Medication, Hot Weather & The Sun

Several common prescription medications can complicate having fun in the sun. It is important to be more mindful of medication side-effects and watchful of your own and others well-being during this time of the year. The reasons that everyone loves summer—the sun and rising temperatures—can cause some dangerous drug interactions and health complications.

Medication Side Effects That Can Be Dangerous During The Summer

Be sure to check all your own or your loved one’s medication pamphlets for possible side effects (especially the three explored in detail below) before heading outside this summer. Medication package inserts can be looked up here, the link for it can be found at the bottom of our help and support page. During the hot summer months, it is easier to become dehydrated because we lose more water through the process of sweating. Dehydration worsens when individuals decrease their fluid intake in an attempt to manage bathroom visits or cannot remember how much fluid they have consumed due to cognitive impairment. Add “water pills” or diuretics used to control conditions like edema, hypertension and glaucoma to a medication regimen and the effects can be profound. Other medications that contribute to fluid loss include laxatives, chemotherapy drugs and antihistamines. Dehydration, or lack of fluids, may present as lightheadedness and fatigue. Younger individuals will simply increase their fluid intake once they feel thirsty, but the thirst mechanism in older adults works less effectively. Seniors may not realise that they are dehydrated until they begin experiencing more serious symptoms like dizziness, confusion and racing heartbeat, which can be caused by the heart pumping against a smaller volume of blood in the body. Fluids, preferably water, are needed to keep the body functioning properly. Everyone, regardless of age, is encouraged to increase their fluid intake during the summer months unless otherwise instructed by a Doctor or GP—especially while spending time outside and while being active. Plain water is the best source of hydration, but plenty of other healthy beverages, and even foods, can help increase hydration on hot summer days.

For example, psychiatric drugs like haloperidol (Haldol) and risperidone (Risperdal) block signals to the brain that body temperature is rising, while heart drugs like beta blockers actually reduce blood flow to the skin, thereby preventing the efficient release of excess heat from the body. The overactive bladder drug oxybutynin, tricyclic antidepressants and many over-the-counter medications containing diphenhydramine (e.g., Benadryl, Dramamine) cause individuals to sweat less.

Medications That Cause Sensitivity to Sunlight

Certain topical, oral and injection medications can cause phototoxic and photoallergic reactions in individuals when they are out in the sun. Symptoms include sunburn-like skin inflammation, rash and eczema.

A few well-known examples include:

  • St. John’s Wort
  • Certain classes of antibiotics (e.g., quinolones, tetracyclines and sulfonamides)
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs (e.g., ibuprofen, naproxen)
  • Loop diuretics (e.g., furosemide, torsemide)
  • Thiazide diuretics (e.g., hydrochlorothiazide)
  • Anti-malarial drugs (e.g., hydroxychloroquine, chloroquine)
  • Antiarrhythmics (e.g., amiodarone, quinidine)
  • Statins (e.g., simvastatin, atorvastatin)
  • Some anti-diabetic agents (sulfonylureas) 

During the sunny months, it is extremely important to ask your own or loved one’s doctor or pharmacist how each of their medications (new and old) may interact with spending time outside. How a person might react to a medication is often dependent on the dosage they are taking as well as the amount and intensity of sun exposure. Photoallergic reactions, which are more rare, can be difficult to predict unless someone has a history of them.

Preventing photosensitivity is similar to preventing sunburn. Good prevention includes avoiding or limiting exposure to the sun, wearing plenty of protective clothing (including hats) and using sunscreen products as directed.

It is crucial to closely monitor yourself or others taking these and similar medications while spending time outside. Heat-related illnesses (hyperthermia), such as heat syncope (fainting), heat cramps, heat edema and heat exhaustion, can quickly progress to heat stroke if left untreated. Keep an eye out for symptoms like nausea and vomiting, changes in heart rate, decreased sweating, confusion and fainting. To avoid overheating, wear light-weight summer clothes, keep a cool, non-alcoholic beverage handy, and bring your own shade while spending time outside.

Ensuring Safe Summer Fun The Elderly

It is important for anyone, but especially the elderly and their caregivers to get some fresh air and vitamin D this summer but be smart about outdoor activities. Certain prescription and over-the-counter medications require special precautions, so read all inserts and prescribing information carefully. If you can’t find it, you can view information for your medication by clicking the link at the bottom of our help and support page here. Wear proper sun protection, drink plenty of water, and try to plan outings for the cooler parts of the day to avoid issues. If you have any questions about your own or your loved one’s medication regimen, side effects or potential drug interactions, don’t hesitate to contact their doctor or pharmacist.

Top Tips For Addicts & Those In Recovery

  • If you are physically dependent on drugs or alcohol, try to keep your use to the smallest amount as you can.
  • Try and keep in shade and stay cool, Use fans, ice cubes in drinks, have cool showers and open windows to allow air to circulate around your home or place you are staying.
  • Just because you are dependent doesn’t mean you can’t drink water too. Keep your water intake up to avoid dehydration.
  • If you take medication that specifies particular measures you need to take in hot, sunny weather to follow all of the advice your medication leaflet tells you to do.
  • apply sun screen regularly to help avoid sun burn and long term skin damage.
  • If you do have to go out, try wearing loose, light coloured clothing that allows air to flow easily around your body such as cotton.
  • Dehydration can cause veins to shrink, meaning if you are trying to inject, missing or damaging your veins becomes more likely.
  • If you are detoxing or withdrawing, ensure you drink plenty of water otherwise your symptoms may become worse and cause unnecessary complications.
  • If ever you are unsure, urge on the side of caution and contact your GP or nearest drug and alcohol service. Contact information for them can be found on our help and support page here.

Published by Drink ’n’ Drugs

Providing useful, relevant, up to date information and support for those suffering from active addiction or those who are in recovery.

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