Can Drinking Too Much Water Be Dangerous for Kids?

Little girl drinking from water fountain
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We’re always hearing about how important it is to drink more water. But can you ever have too much?

There is such a thing as water intoxication. Also called water poisoning, it most often occurs accidentally when a person tries to drink too much water after becoming dehydrated. However, encouraging–or forcing–kids to drink water when they aren’t thirsty could have deadly consequences.

Death of Zachary Sabin

That’s what happened Zachary Sabin, an 11-year-old Texas boy whose parents forced him to drink up to 96 ounces of water. Zachary’s father and stepmother, Ryan and Tara Sabin, are facing first-degree murder and child abuse charges. The couple claims that they were trying to get their son to drink eight glasses of water a day.

According to an affidavit, the couple forced Zachary to drink four 24-oz bottles of water over the span of four hours. They did not let him stop, even when he began throwing up and exhibiting other symptoms of water intoxication. The couple made him continue drinking water alone in the kitchen while the rest of the family ate dinner. Then they put him to bed despite clear signs of distress. Ryan Sabin found his son dead the next morning.

It is not clear whether the couple knew that forcing an 11-year-old boy to drink almost three liters of water in such a short span of time would be fatal. However, the Sabins are accused of multiple counts of child abuse related to five other children under their care.

Symptoms of Water Intoxication

When you drink too much water too quickly, it changes the balance of electrolytes–including sodium–in your blood. While we usually think of too much salt as a bad thing in our diets, a certain amount of sodium is essential to our health. If you have too little salt, your cells can take on too much water. This causes the cells to swell, which is very dangerous. When that happens to brain cells, it can quickly become fatal.

The first symptoms of water intoxication are headache, nausea, and vomiting. Unfortunately, many other illnesses have similar symptoms, and you might not realize that the cause of these symptoms is too much water.

In extreme cases of water intoxication, more serious symptoms may arise. These include sudden drowsiness, muscle cramps, double vision, confusion, and difficulty breathing. Poor Zachary Sabin reportedly showed most of these symptoms before his death.

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