Drinking and diving – the facts

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Drinking and diving – the facts

For those that know me, they will know how much I love a drink! Indeed, divers in general are a fun-loving bunch and we love nothing more than to re-live our diving stories over a beer …or 6!

Diving as a sport can, in essence, can be as dangerous or as safe as you make it. With diving comes risk. However, with appropriate risk management and associated safe diving practices, training and experience, the level of risk can be appropriately mitigated. If a diver applies appropriate risk management in their diving practices, the residual risk involved in diving should make diving a “safe” sport. We all need to acknowledge that there will always be risk involved in diving; it is essentially our decision as to whether we accept this level of residual risk in our sport.

But what about drinking and diving? Does drinking either before or after diving change the levels of risk associated with our sport? Lets find out.

Drinking the night before diving

When it comes to drinking the night before diving, take it easy. Drinking too much the night before diving can lead to the standard hangover type symptoms: dehydration, headaches, fatigue and nausea. Combine these symptoms with being on a boat and you can almost guarantee some sea sickness thrown in for good measure too!

So why does it matter that you feel less than average before a dive as a result of self-induced behaviours? Well for a start, feeling this way will likely have impacts on you both physiologically and mentally, potentially impairing both judgement and coordination. This will ultimately have an impact on the level of risk involved in diving, not only for you, but also for your buddy. A hung-over, “impaired” buddy is unlikely to react as quickly and conscientiously as somebody that is firing on all cylinders. Hung-over divers on the boat are likely to be unfocussed and may skip important checks. All of this ultimately increases risk, however, with impaired judgement, the diver is not able to make a fully informed decision regarding the acceptance of this risk.

Perhaps an even more significant issue associated with diving the day after drinking is dehydration. Dehydration is a primary cause of decompression sickness (“DCS”). Indeed, the risk associated with DCS increases significantly with dehydration. With this in mind, I’d recommend limiting your intake of alcohol the night before diving to a sensible amount, ensuring you get plenty of rest (8 hours sleep) and drink plenty water to ensure you are fully hydrated before diving.

Drinking before diving

In any day, as soon as alcohol passes your lips, there should certainly be no further diving for you on that day. The impacts of dehydration are still valid here, however, the largest impact regarding drinking followed by diving in the same day relates to judgement. Impaired judgement caused by alcohol really does impact the level of risk associated with the sport. Unlike driving a car, where there may be a “safe” limit of alcohol to consume, with diving, a zero tolerance rule should be applied.

Drinking after diving

So what about drinking after diving? Obviously the issues and risks associated with diving and drinking are not a problem after you have finished diving. Although bear in mind that drinking may potentially mask the symptoms of DCS, leading to delayed treatment with potentially sub-optimal outcomes.

Dehydration caused by alcohol consumption post diving is still a risk factor. As we’ve already found out, the risk of DCS clearly increases with dehydration. I would therefore recommend making sure that you are well hydrated before you consume alcohol post diving and ensure you stay hydrated by alternating your alcoholic drinks with plenty of water. Diving itself is very dehydrating for the body, add to this some post dive alcohol and, without compensating by drinking lots of water, you are well on the way to becoming extremely dehydrated.

Timing is another consideration to bear in mind with post dive drinking. DCS is caused by nitrogen bubbles forming from nitrogen absorbed into a diver’s tissues under pressure. This nitrogen will naturally work out when a diver surfaces, known as off-gassing. However, dehydration caused by alcohol consumption can effectively impede the off-gassing process and increase DCS risk. Fluid consumption (not alcoholic fluid!) is therefore recommended, as is leaving as long an amount of time between diving and drinking to ensure off-gassing is well progressed. Just like the dive tables you used on your Open Water course, the deeper and longer the dive, the longer the ‘surface interval’ should be. In this case, consider the surface interval the ‘dry’ period.

So, whilst most divers appreciate a beer, try to drink as responsibly as possible the night before and immediately after you dive to mitigate your risk. Give yourself a few hours (at least) after a dive before starting on the booze, and don’t overdo it! If you do overdo it and end it staying out into the wee hours of the morning (and let’s face it, we’ve all been there!), be responsible enough to cancel that 6.00am dive and give your body a chance to recover! And if you decide not to heed this advice, remember you are increasing the risks associated with diving, potentially not just for yourself, but also for your buddy.

Do you have any advice or stories on drinking and diving? We’d love to hear them! Safe diving to you all.

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