By Paul Culp, MA (Oxon.) CFT, GCDF, CCSP
Now that you’ve spent the winter honing your beach body, it would be a shame if a health setback ruined your spring break…
…but all manner of maladies and temptations lurk in the throngs of revelers.
The time is almost upon us when a sizable portion of the U.S. college student population, perhaps 50 percent, will descend on beaches and other vacation spots at home and abroad for the annual bacchanalia that is spring break. A much smaller number of students will embark for less festive destinations for “adventure travel” or in order to provide some combination of food, clothing, shelter, and enlightenment to those in need of them or deemed to be so. Some of what we say here about health problems and preventive measures will apply to all categories of adventurers. Some will not, although maxims such as “go easy on the sex, drugs, and booze” seem lately to require enunciation in an ever-broadening array of contexts.
That statistic about the number of spring-breakers came from Pharmacy Times, which ought to tell you something. Whether spring break means Cancun or can-do, the opportunities for illness and injury are legion. We offer the following tips for avoiding such misfortunes and mishaps:
Let’s get this one out of the way first…
Do not engage in unprotected carnal intercourse, which has a way of promoting especially nasty afflictions that are embarrassing, difficult to cure, and possibly lethal. Pharmacy Times notes a sharp increase, between March and May, in the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases. It’s true that correlation does not equal causation, but come on.
Furthermore, if you don’t know where babies come from and how much trouble they are, ask your mom about this before you head out.
Oh, and there’s this really fantastic life hack called “abstinence” that reportedly prevents all sorts of problems in the amatory arena.
Mind your P’s and Q’s.
Science informs us that spring break merrymaking leads to many regrettable activities but that traveling with parents promotes a more wholesome experience.
According to one theory, “mind your P’s and Q’s” originated as a reference to the consumption of pints and quarts of ale and beer. We’ll use it that way here, and admonish you also to mind your intake of potables normally measured in smaller quantities. Not that “normally” means much in the spring break party culture. A study published by The American Journal of College Health concluded that the average male spring-breaker imbibes 18 units of alcohol daily, while the average female consumes 10 units. That’s a truly staggering statistic, no pun intended. To put it in perspective: Doctors and substance abuse counselors tend to view anything more than 14 or 15 units a week for a man and 10 or so for a woman as a possible cause for concern, with four in one day for a man or three for a woman being considered heavy drinking.
And yes, science does inform us that heavy alcohol consumption is definitely associated with the sort of situations in which people contract STDs or get pregnant without meaning to, among other lapses in vigilance. Research published by Psychology of Addictive Behaviors concludes that people who go on trips and drink during spring break are about twice as likely to get into “sexual situations that you later regretted” than people who consume alcohol but don’t go on a spring break trip. They’re also about twice as likely to get into fights or do “mean things.” We shall forever be indebted to the authors of the study for informing the world that “students staying home or vacationing with their parents are at lower risk for increased alcohol use” during spring break.
Be careful of drug interactions.
By this we mean don’t interact with people who use illegal drugs, and if you must consume illegal drugs, do not interact with other people while doing so. We also mean that you should exercise extreme caution about mixing legal drugs, whether prescription or over-the-counter, with each other and especially with alcohol. Many pain relievers and cold medicines can cause irreparable damage to the liver if consumed at time when the liver is processing or has recently processed alcohol. In other words, a hangover remedy can significantly compound the harm done by the inebriation. Make sure you read the labels of all medications, prescription and otherwise.
Be advised also that ibuprofen, alcohol, and artificial sweeteners can all reduce your platelet count, which can lead to easy bruising and bleeding.
Florida, here we come! Drive safely to get your spring break off to a swell start.
Do not drive while under the influence of alcohol. Do not drive while sleep-deprived. Do not drive while texting. Do not drive while engaging in horseplay or animated conversation that impairs your attentiveness to the task at hand. Do not speed or tailgate.
Go easy on the caffeine.
Using caffeine to keep yourself going at all hours or to increase your level of excitement can create serious problems, especially in combination with large amounts of sugar. Diet aids containing large amounts of caffeine can be especially problematic. Caffeine stimulates the heart, and if taken to excess can even be lethal.
Drink enough water.
Alcohol and caffeine are both diuretics, which means they make you excrete fluid at a greater rate than your consumption of it. Long periods of outdoor (in)activity in warm weather obviously promote fluid loss through perspiration. Sufficient water is crucial.
Be careful of sun exposure.
Skin cancer isn’t just for old people. In fact, a lot of people don’t get to be old, because they get skin cancer. The old people who have skin cancer almost invariably started working on it when they were young. And not many young people want to look old, which is what happens to those who don’t take care of their skin. Sunscreen is now more plentiful and powerful than ever and is available in all manner of creams, lotions, sprays, and sticks. Get the highest SPF number you can, and if you’re going to be in the water, purchase a product that resists rinse-off. Apply it frequently.
Apply early, apply often, and get a friend to help with those hard-to-reach places.
Bear in mind also that hats are likewise not just for old folks. The Coaching Educator is not well-informed on current doctrine about the coolness or dorkiness of wrap-around sunglasses, but if you don’t head to the beach with some of these…
…you’ll someday be headed to the cataract clinic for some of these:
Remember that the sun can angle in from the side, around the lenses of sunglasses offering less than full coverage, and that it can also reflect from the surface of the ground, especially on pale surfaces like sand.
Practice food safety.
This is pretty simple: Don’t leave perishable stuff sitting around and then eat it. Cold foods should be kept cold and hot foods hot, because the span between 40 and 140 degrees is the most hospitable zone for microbes that cause food poisoning. Meat, fish, poultry, dairy products, and foods containing eggs shouldn’t be left out for more than two hours, and even that is pushing it. Rolling out of bed and plucking one of last night’s cankered, festering pizza slices or subs from the debris on the table is asking for trouble. Once the offending microbes establish themselves in your grub, firing it up in the microwave won’t eliminate them. An ounce of prevention forestalls a gallon of diarrhea and vomit.
Take precautions against infectious diseases.
Biting is bad for everyone involved, and doctors advise against drinking the blood of another person.
A few months of college can build up the immune system to an impressive degree, but spring break can overwhelm it via a huge influx of new people from all points of the compass eating, sleeping, recreating, and excreting at close quarters with one another. It’s not a good time to let up on the sort of protective measures we discussed in College, Flu and You and These Go to Eleven: Our All-Star Lineup of College Illnesses: Wash your hands frequently, wash utensils thoroughly, don’t share towels with other people, etc. Swimming pools are what God would’ve invented if he’d wanted to spread germs, so be sure to shower off after your pool time. And don’t be afraid of hand sanitizer. Our experience with it is that we get sick far less frequently than we did before we started using the stuff, though people will admire you more if you sagely repeat the now-tired line about hand gel weakening the immune system. It’s your choice: You can be well or you can be cool.
Dr. Pritish Tosh of the Mayo Clinic urges spring-breakers to be sure to take sandals with them, and not just because of broken glass:
“There are a lot of different kinds of infections that people can get from going to the beach. In the U.S., we really don’t have the kind of soil and parasites that you can get in the Caribbean or elsewhere in the world, where walking barefoot could actually lead to getting hookworm. But if people are traveling to the Caribbean, they really need to be wearing footwear.”
No matter what the cause, if a serious illness or injury occurs…
…seek expert attention and don’t try to be a hero.
The Coaching Educator emphasizes not only helping students get into the right school and find the means of paying for it, but also helping them succeed once they’re there. That’s why we provide articles about physical and mental health and about college success in general.
To learn more about our philosophy and capabilities, be sure to watch our free webinars, listen to our podcasts, sign up for our four-week College App Boot Camp, consider our Ultimate Programs and our special services for athletes and performing-arts students, and book a consultation to hear what we can do for you and how we do it. Keep reading this blog, and look for us on social media (see links below) as we keep our clients and admirers advised of new developments in our effort to help students get into and succeed at the right school.
Paul Culp is certified as a global career development facilitator and writes about college admissions, college costs, financial aid, and college life in general for The Coaching Educator team. A former journalist and corporate ghostwriter who now operates Shenandoah Proofreading, Editing & Composition Services (SPECS), he has also been a humanities teacher at all levels from university down to sixth grade. Paul has degrees from Oxford University, Jacksonville State University, and Samford University, and also is certified as a fitness trainer.
Credits, References, and Recommended Reading About College Life
Featured image by Columbia Pictures. Beach crowd by George Rodger, Magnum Photos.
Culp, Paul. “College, Flu and You,” The Coaching Educator, 4 October 2018, http://tce.local/2018/10/04/college-flu-and-you/
Culp, Paul. “When Your GPA Isn’t Weighted But You Are: The Freshman 15,” The Coaching Educator, 10 September 2018, http://tce.local/2018/09/10/when-your-gpa-isnt-weighted-but-you-are-the-freshman-15/
Culp, Paul. “These Go to Eleven: Our All-Star Lineup of College Illnesses,” The Coaching Educator, 9 October 2018, http://tce.local/2018/10/09/these-go-to-eleven-our-all-star-lineup-of-college-illnesses/
Hatcher, Tiffany. “Sun, Sex, and STDs: Are You Ready for Spring Break 2016?” Pharmacy Times, 8 March 2016, https://www.pharmacytimes.com/contributor/tiffany-hatcher-pharmd-candidate-2017/2016/03/sun-sex-and-stds-are-you-ready-for-spring-break-2016
Lee, C. M., Lewis, M. A., and Neighbors, C. (2009). “Preliminary examination of Spring Break alcohol use and related consequences,” Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 23(4), 689-694. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0016482
Tosh, Pritish. “Infectious Diseases A-Z: Avoid illness during spring break at the beach,” the Mayo Clinic, 19 March 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=54&v=Di4RgGJUUM8