Water Chugging

Letter from Boston Minuteman Council Risk Management Committee

The practice of water chugging is dangerous. Efforts should be taken to discourage such contests for the following reasons:

  • American young people have died or suffered life-threatening illnesses because of water chugging. In 2005, four members of a Chico State California fraternity received jail terms for their role in the death of 21-year-old Matthew Carrington, who was forced to drink water as part of his initiation.(1) In 2003, at the State University of New York Plattsburgh, 11 young men were charged in the death of student Walter Dean Jennings, who was asked to drink water through a funnel to the point of vomiting.(2) Also, in 2003, 21-year-old Braylon Curry, a student at Southern Methodist University in Texas, was hospitalized in critical condition after chugging water in a fraternity stunt.(3) Although some injuries and fatalities associated with water chugging have occurred during hazing incidents, the same type of risks are presented by chugging contests involving young people.
     
  • Water chugging can lead to hyponatremia, or dilution of the blood sodium level because of too much water. Hyponatremia can result in heart dysrhythmias, coma, seizures, and death. Hyponatremia is well known to those who supervise endurance athletes in hot environments. For instance, there have been several reported cases of military recruits (4, 5) and marathon runners (6, 7) dying of hyponatremia; a great many more have been treated for the problem. Although it is important to replace fluid losses while exercising, it has been recommended that consuming more than 1.5 liters/hour over several hours increases risk of hypontremia.(8) Sports drinks have not been proven any more safe than water in this regard.6 As a result, when contests involve drinking a quart of water, this puts participants close to the recommended limit for fluid intake, posing a particular risk if contest organizers are not screening for recent hydration or other health-related conditions. One of us observed a Scout become nauseous at Philmont this summer following the Beaubien contest, as he had reportedly been practicing for the contest by consuming a quart of water shortly before the actual competition - behavior that is clearly not unforeseeable when a contest is announced to young people.
     
  • Rapid consumption of a large volume of fluid can lead to choking, and eventually to vomiting as the volume of the stomach is exceeded. Aspiration of water into the airways would lead to choking and coughing reflex in the normal person. Aspiration of highly acidic vomitus could lead to severe damage to the airways. We have witnessed vomiting occur following the chugging contests at our council's Boy Scout camp.
     
  • Our youth are getting the wrong message about how to maintain hydration during exercise in a hot environment. Even under conditions where overall daily intake of water should exceed a gallon, it is preferable that youth drink smaller amounts frequently to maintain a stable fluid status rather than subject their bodied to drastic shifts.
     
  • Chugging contests are associated with alcohol bingeing. There is no need for us to sanction an activity that resembles an even more dangerous practice.

References:

  1. Vovakes C. Guilty pleas in Chico hazing death. Four members of a rogue fraternity get jail terms for their roles in initiation tragedy. Sacramento Bee 2005 October 29, 2005; Sect. B1.
  2. Foderaro L. W. 3 plead guilty in inquiry into fatal college hazing. The New York Times 2003 October 11, 2003; Sect. 5.
  3. SMU pledge critical after water stunt. CNN.com, 2003. (Accessed July 27, 2006, at http://www.cnn.com/2003/US/Southwest/11/17/fraternity.pledge.ap/.)
  4. Gardner JW. Death by water intoxication. Mil Med 2002; 167(5):432-4.
  5. Garigan TP, Ristedt DE. Death from hyponatremia as a result of acute water intoxication in an Army basic trainee. Mil Med 1999; 164(3):234-8.
  6. Almont CS, Shin AY, Fortescue EB, et al. Hyponatremia among runners in the Boston Marathon. N Engl J Med 2005;352(15):1550-6.
  7. Levine BD, Thompson PD. Marathon maladies. N Engl J Med 2005;352(15):1516-8.
  8. Von Duvillard SP, Braun WA, Markofski M, Beneke R, Leithauser R. Fluids and hydration in prolonged endurance performance. Nutrition 2004;20(7-8):651-6.