According to the World Health Organisation’s ‘Guidelines for safe recreational water environments, Vol. 2: Swimming pools & similar environments’, alcohol is one of the contributory factors most frequently reported in association with adult and adolescent drowning (Petridou, 2005; Browne et al, 2003; Levin et al, 1993; Hingson & Howland, 1988) in many countries.
Alcohol and drowning accidents
While the proportion of alcohol consumption-related drowning is rarely presented in accordance with respective bodies of water, one study showed positive alcohol screens for around half of all drowning victims over the age of 14 (M. Browne, pers. comm).
Child drowning and swimming pool injuries
Although lapses in adult supervision are most frequently cited as contributory factors in child drowning, Petridous’ 2005 study suggested that alcohol consumption by guardians/parents may have contributed to lapses in supervision resulting in children drowning or being injured in swimming pools.
Inebriation and drowning
Intoxication causes several physical changes within the body, including:
- Hypothermia – Exposed to the cold, the body attempts to draw blood from limbs towards vital organs in order to avoid heat loss. Alcohol prevents this and subsequently increases the risk of hypothermia.
- Inner ear fluid – The fluid contained within the inner ear is responsible for maintaining balance. Alcohol and sudden temperature changes, such as when jumping into cold water, can easily lead to disorientation.
- Laryngospasm – As water enters the windpipe, it triggers a reflex to close the windpipe. Alcohol may retard the reflex and thereby increase the risk of water inhalation, or it may cause the airway to snap shut and lock it closed.
Drunkenness and pool injuries
Other ways in which alcohol contributes to swimming pool accidents include reduced CPR effectiveness, making it difficult to resuscitate intoxicated drowning victims, and:
- Reduced coordination.
- Impaired judgement.
- Impaired reaction time.
- Increased risk-taking behaviour.
These effects do, of course, not only endanger the inebriated swimmer, but also poses a risk of injury to pool users nearby.
As well as putting drunken individuals and other pool visitors at risk of injuries in the water, alcohol also significantly increases the risk of slip, trip or fall injuries.
If you or a loved one were injured in a pool accident because another person was intoxicated, you may be able to make a public liability claim against this person. Learn how to claim by making a call to Accident Advice Helpline on 0800 689 0500 or 0333 500 0993 from a mobile.
Date Published: March 12, 2014
Author: David Brown