On Wednesday night, at least 36 young people (primarily between the ages of 16 and 25) were hospitalized during a Boston show with Swedish DJ Avicii. Most of the kids’ distress was reportedly caused by a combination of alcohol and illegal drugs. Fortunately no one died, but the terrible situation — which medical personnel at one point deemed a “Phase 2 Mass Casualty Incident” — emphasizes the need for more education around the often-dangerous intersection of drinking and drugging during the sweltering summer months.
Studies have shown that more teens start drinking, smoking, and trying marijuana in June and July than in any other months — and we’d bet the same goes for adults. “School’s out” may no longer ring true, but better weather, longer vacations, more holidays, and Summer Fridays can bring significantly more opportunities to seek out altered states. So, whether you’re hitting up one of the countless summer music festivals, picnicking in the park with your pals, or relaxing at a Fourth of July barbecue, consider these pointers on how to imbibe more safely during the sunny summer hours. Because, nothing puts a damper on the party like a hospital visit.
If you only heed one of the following suggestions, make it this one. And, no, a white-wine spritzer doesn’t count. Scott Bienenfeld, MD, founder of the rehab center Rebound Brooklyn, warns: “Do not mistake drinking anything alcoholic with hydrating yourself.” Alcohol is a diuretic, so it actually propels your body to pee out much of the fluid you take in.
If your body lacks sufficient fluids because of all the alcohol you've been downing, it can't sweat enough to properly cool itself. When you're hanging out in the heat, this can potentially lead to heat stroke (a.k.a. sunstroke), the most serious sun-related condition — your temperature rises to dangerous levels above 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Symptoms include fever, confusion, rapid pulse, and breathing issues; it can eventually make you pass out and can even cause brain damage in the long term.
In the summer heat, you may also experience a condition called insensible water loss due to increased sweating. You don’t have to be exerting yourself with a crazy game of beach volleyball to lose water that way — “you [can] lose a lot of fluid [without even realizing it], just by walking around in the summer,” Dr. Bienenfeld notes.
For all these reasons, it’s super-important to stay hydrated and keep your electrolytes (minerals that help regulate the amount of water in your system) balanced in the heat, especially if you’re drinking or doing drugs. Of course, the best way to stay hydrated is to chug straight-up water all day; there’s nothing more effective.
Last summer saw at least four deaths attributed to molly, the increasingly popular party drug. Molly used to be heralded as pure, straight-up MDMA, but (according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration) over the past year or two, it’s begun to be spiked with a toxic blend of synthetic chemicals. Be prepared for more officials to crack down on drug use at festivals, raves, and concerts this year. That means entry screening, searches, and “amnesty bins” where folks can anonymously dump their forbidden stash.
When it comes to popping pills like Ecstasy or molly, the key things to remember are: staying hydrated (as always) and avoiding hyperthermia. “Maybe you've done molly [in the past] in one setting,” Dr. Bienenfeld explains, “but in a hot setting where you're dehydrated, your risk of hyperthermia is increased tenfold.” His advice? “Stay cool” — and keep chugging water. Also, make sure you understand the possible risks of whatever substance(s) you consume.
“The whole ‘don't do drugs’ [advice] isn't the reality,” Dr. Bienenfeld says. Still, it’s important to keep in mind that no drug is 100% safe. If you take something and start feeling sick, panicky, or concerned about its effects, call 911. “You can never be arrested for having ingested an [illegal] drug. You can for possessing it, but once it’s ingested, it’s considered a medical problem,” Dr. Bienenfeld notes.
Ben, from NYC, learned about some of molly’s side effects the hard way after doing it at a festival last year. “The actual [experience] was fun; I felt excited, happy, and loving towards pretty much everyone,” he says. It was the next day, during his come-down, that one of the drug’s most notorious side effects began to kick in: near-suicidal depression. “I pretty much wanted to die,” Ben remembers. His overwhelming feelings of paranoia, panic, and depression lasted all day (these types of effects haven’t been nicknamed "Suicide Tuesdays" for nothing). They eventually wore off, but Ben has stayed away from MDMA and its sister drugs ever since.
Of course, lots of folks gravitate toward “soft” drugs (marijuana) at outdoor concerts and events. Weed isn’t considered extremely dangerous no matter where you’re doing it, and it doesn’t dehydrate you like harder drugs. It does, however, have rare negative side effects; high doses can trigger temporary psychotic reactions like paranoia and hallucinations. Still, pot’s not going to kill you, nor can you overdose on it — so if you’re at a party and itching for a high, it’s a safer bet than most.
GO FOR THE LIGHT STUFF
When you’re day drinking, it’s generally best to opt for the lighter stuff. Think beer, mimosas — hell, go for a wine cooler if you’re feeling retro-cheesy — but avoid the tequila shots and screwdrivers. It’s not brain surgery; the stronger the drinks you scarf, the faster you’ll get sloshed, and the ickier you’re apt to feel later.
“I’ll never forget the time I accidentally got wasted at my best friend’s birthday picnic,” says Anna, of San Francisco. “It started around 1 p.m. and was [overloaded with] amazing drinks… We started off with white wine, and at some point I switched over to some rum-punch stuff — big mistake.” Anna made it to 4 p.m. before passing out on her picnic blanket and missing the rest of the party. “My friend woke me up when it was over,” she says. She remembers going home, passing out again, and awakening the next morning with a screaming headache and nausea. “I was so pissed at myself for missing her whole picnic,” she recalls. “But, it did help remind me to never drink that heavily at a daytime event in the future.”
EAT IT UP
Meeting friends at a sidewalk cafe for brunch? Feel free to partake in a mimosa or two — but cut yourself off after a couple, lest you wind up in the aforementioned passed-out-by-afternoon situation. “When it’s hot during the day, you'll get more intoxicated more quickly on less alcohol than usual,” Dr. Bienenfeld says. Luckily, brunch itself will help you out here; be sure to put lots of solid, alcohol-buffering food in your stomach. Eggs, bacon, home fries, and toast are the gold standard.
If you’re at a picnic or another outdoor event (i.e., festivals, BBQs, or garden parties), don’t skimp on the carbs and protein; try burgers, fish, potato salad, and the like. Feel free to dive into the fresh-fruit medley and summer salad, too, but don’t use juicy foods like watermelon as a substitute for drinking water. As Dr. Bienenfeld says, “You will never get enough water out of veggies [and fruits] to make a difference.”
No matter what types of daytime debauchery you get into this season, keep our tips in mind. They won’t just keep you safer and healthier, they’ll help you drink (and drug) smarter instead of harder — no matter where you are, or how high the temperature rises.