When the good times start to roll, there's more to staying safe than handing over your car keys and avoiding prescription medications. In fact, there are some serious drinking dangers that can turn your happy hour into a trip to the emergency room if you mix your favorite cocktail with something risky -- or something ordinary for that matter.
Here are the top 10 booze-drinking-combo dangers you should be aware of before you crack open a cold one.
Sports and Booze
We saw it in the 2006 Winter Olympics with skiing phenom Bode Miller, but no matter how many Olympic medals you have, sports and booze spell trouble.
"I think that part of the reason drinking tends to happen in sports is that it becomes an association," says Jenn Berman, PhD, a psychologist in private practice in Beverly Hills, Calif., who was a member of the 1984 Olympic team in gymnastics. "You have a beer on the beach when you're playing volleyball, or you have a rum and cider when you're on the slopes skiing. The problem is it's not a good association."
Clearly, there's a level of risk in sports without adding alcohol to the mix. With alcohol, the risk climbs --significantly.
"The combination of alcohol and sports is very destructive," says Berman. "The obvious consequences are getting hurt. You are so much more likely to get hurt when you've even had one drink because alcohol slows your motor skills and your judgment."
Alcohol and Sex
They're an age-old combination, but these two together can definitely mean some serious consequences.
"The consequences of mixing alcohol and sex are you are less likely to use a condom, you're more likely to get a venereal disease, or get pregnant, or get someone pregnant," Berman tells WebMD. "You're also more likely to sleep with someone you wouldn't otherwise sleep with."
According to the collegedrinkingprevention.gov web site, "400,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 had unprotected sex, and more than 100,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 report having been too intoxicated to know if they consented to having sex."
Pay Attention to Your Alcohol
Another bad combination with alcohol isn't something a person does to herself, but something someone else does to her. It's rohypnol -- the date rape drug. It's a central nervous system depressant, like Valium, but 10 times more potent, according to the White House Drug Policy web site. It's tasteless and odorless, and dissolves in liquid, so it can easily be put in a beer without you knowing -- slowing a person's psychomotor performance and causing muscle relaxation, decreased blood pressure, sleepiness, and/or amnesia, according to the web site.
"Make sure you watch your own drink," says Berman. "Don't let someone bring you a drink. Watch the bartender when he makes your drink, and don't let it out of your sight."
The problem is the more you drink, the harder it is to be aware of your surroundings, including the beer right in front of your face.
"The difficult thing is when you've had a drink, you're more likely to be less careful and not pay attention and talk to your friends," says Berman. "It's hard to watch your drink and be drunk at the same time."
A few drinks combined with a computer can lead a person to some high-tech trouble with online temptations like Internet shopping and gambling.
"Alcohol makes a person's inhibitions disappear, so they make choices that aren't in their best interest," says Berman. "And, there's something with online gambling and shopping where money doesn't feel real. So when you've had alcohol and your inhibitions are down, it's easier to make impulsive decisions and click a button rather than think about the consequences."
Drinking and Over-the-Counter Drugs
"There are definite interactions with alcohol and OTC medications," says Stephen Ross, MD, a family medicine physician at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center.
For instance, medications like Nyquil contain alcohol, so consuming it means you're adding more alcohol on top of your drink of choice.
"Also, many sleeping aids such as Tylenol PM or Sominex contain sedating antihistamines like diphenhydramine (Benadryl)," Ross tells WebMD. "If someone has alcohol in their system close to the time that they would take one of these sleeping medications they run the risk of becoming more sedated."
Mixing alcohol with other cold or allergy medications, explains Ross, like Contac or Benadryl, can make driving or operating heavy machinery dangerous.
"Nonsedating allergy medications like Claritin or Sudafed are safer to mix with alcohol," says Ross. "A rule of thumb would be to never mix alcohol with an OTC medication that says 'may cause drowsiness.'"
Alcohol and Chronic Illness
"Any person with a chronic medical illness must be careful when drinking alcohol," says Ross.
People with diabetes, for instance, need to be careful because alcoholic beverages are a sugar, and sugar can be dangerous for people with this chronic disease.
Drinking alcohol can also be a risky move for people with stomach and intestinal ulcers, Ross explains. This condition can be aggravated and lead to internal bleeding if more than a small amount is consumed.
However, there's evidence that in moderate amounts, beer and wine offer protection against heart disease. What's "moderate"? For women, it's no more than one drink per day. For men, it's no more than two drinks per day.
"Energy drinks or drinks with high caffeine intake do not help a person feel less drunk," says Ross. "The old adage that drinking a cup of coffee will sober you up more quickly is not true."
Instead, pounding down a few highly caffeinated energy drinks along with a few potent mixed drinks can make a person more combative and agitated -- not a pretty picture.
If you've had too much to drink and you want to start the sobering-up process, go to something that's tried and true: water.
"I would recommend drinking plenty of water and not caffeine to try to decrease the effects of alcohol," says Ross.
Boating and Drinking
According to a study published in the December 2001 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, a person's chances of dying in a boating accident -- either as a passenger or at the helm -- soar when you add alcohol to the equation, even if the amounts of alcohol are small. After reaching the blood alcohol concentration limit of legal intoxication in most states, your odds of getting killed rise by 30%, according to the study. And when you're three times beyond the legal limit with a blood-alcohol content of 0.25, you are 50 times more likely to die than a sober boater. When you do the math, boating and drinking can equal disaster.
Alcohol and Marijuana
"The big three when you mix alcohol and cannabis are: effect on judgment, effect on motor performance, and sedation," says Christopher Welsh, MD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
Both alcohol and marijuana have sedating properties, so when the two are combined, the effects are additive, explains Welsh.
"Animal studies have shown that motor performance is significantly impaired if you combine the two, compared to each on their own," Welsh tells WebMD. "This has also been shown in some human studies."
Sedation and an impairment of motor performance together leave a person with a less than perfect sense of judgment.
Alcohol and ... Almost Everything
Drinking alcohol can almost always put you at an increased risk for a bad ending in some way, shape, or form. Here are other activities that just aren't good bedfellows for alcohol:
If you're riding a bike after a few drinks and are legally drunk, your chances of being seriously or fatally injured while on two wheels increases by 2,000%, according a study published in the February 2001 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.
According to the collegedrinkingprevention.gov web site, mixing alcohol and academics doesn't help when a student is trying make the grade: "About 25% of college students report academic consequences of their drinking including missing class, falling behind, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades overall."
Finally, when it's hot and sunny, and all you want is an ice-cold mixed drink, think again. Alcohol can hinder the body's ability to regulate temperature, and alcoholic drinks can also cause you to lose excess amounts of body fluid, according to the CDC web site. Both of these can overload your body, leading to dehydration and heat exhaustion.