By Rick Treleaven

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The sight of taps at a communitywide event or a reveler sipping an adult beverage in plain view is about as common in Central Oregon as a cloudless summer day.

A cooler full of alcoholic drinks on a warm, sunny afternoon at the Cascade Lakes, a free beer after a 5K run or a mountain bike race, or a summer concert sponsored by a marijuana dispensary are all part of the laid-back lifestyle that has come to define this region. And that can obscure the dangers of excessive drinking, particularly in the summer when the weather is near-perfect and the beers are flowing — especially in a culture where alcohol consumption and marijuana use are so casual and widely accepted.

But there are indeed dangers.

Drinking during the summer comes with immediate risks, of course. Impaired judgment while swimming can and too often does have tragic consequences, as we have seen over the years, particularly on the Deschutes River. Alcohol also brings increased risk of severe dehydration during warm summer days, especially while engaging in more rigorous activities, such as hiking and mountain biking. And impaired operation of motor vehicles, both on water and roads, are both more common in summer.

In fact, as much as 70% of all water recreation deaths of teens and adults involve the use of alcohol, according to the National Institutes of Health. Furthermore, 19% of all boating fatalities in which a cause can be determined can be attributed to alcohol use, making it the leading known contributor of fatal boating accidents, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

The long-term risks can be far too easy to dismiss, too.

Summer is a time for outdoor barbecues and late nights around a campfire. Enjoying a few drinks during these social occasions is normal, and often expected, which can seem harmless. And while it’s true that many people can manage such social drinking responsibly, we see that binge drinking — typically three drinks or more in a day for women, four or more for men — is common during such events.

Along with the short-term risks that come from binge drinking, the frequency of such social occasions during the summer months increases the chances of long-term heavy drinking. That can in turn lead to much larger issues like dependency, especially for those who carry an increased risk of addiction through family history or past abuse.

The true danger in Central Oregon is that the signs of excessive drinking can be so easy to miss. A drink at lunch, a few beers too many at a barbecue, concert, or festival or simply drinking to excess during a summer day spent outdoors is relatively normal behavior here. But they can also be signs of a much deeper problem.

Summer in Central Oregon has so many opportunities for fun, part of what has made our area so popular among residents and visitors alike. But it is also important to understand that neither alcohol nor marijuana are harm-free drugs, despite their legality and casual acceptance in the region.

The key is to be cautious when drinking and know the risks, and don’t be afraid to leave alcohol out of the equation when enjoying a favorite summer activity. Mountain biking, hiking or floating lazily down the Deschutes River are a blast whether there is a beer in your hand or not.

Summer activities do not have to be tied to chemistry to be fun — even in Central Oregon.

— Rick Treleaven is the executive director of Redmond-based BestCare Treatment Services.