Generally associated with excess alcohol consumption, less-than-sensible behavior, and an atmosphere of sexual liberation, spring break dates back to 1935. That year, the Colgate University Swim Team traveled from New York to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to take advantage of an outdoor Olympic-sized swimming pool (the first of its kind built in the Southern United States). Since then, spring break has turned into a multibillion-dollar tourism mega-event that draws thousands of coeds to the sunny beach cities of Mexico, the Caribbean, and, of course, the more southerly latitudes in the United States.
With spring break on the horizon and hordes of enthusiastic spring breakers looking to travel abroad and domestically, we wanted to identify some of the most popular yet most dangerous destinations in the U.S.
For this study, given the notoriety of spring break celebrations and runaway party atmosphere, we analyzed volumes of state data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) focused on two central concerns: safe sex and substance use. We analyzed CDC data specifically about local STD infection rates and deaths from drug overdoses and alcohol poisoning. Combining these statistics allowed us to paint a picture of which of the 50 most popular spring break destinations are likely to be more or less dangerous for young people looking to let loose in 2023.
According to our analysis, the two most dangerous spring break destinations are in Louisiana: Baton Rouge and New Orleans. For those with their hearts set on traveling to Florida this year, you might want to avoid Jacksonville (#7), Miami (#8), and Fort Lauderdale (#10). Instead, Daytona Beach or Key West (numbers 42 and 45, respectively) will be a safer bet. Sunny South Carolina, unfortunately, also has two cities in the top 10 — Charleston and Hilton Head Island.
Here’s the full list of the top 10 most dangerous destinations:
Other appealing yet safer travel options include Las Vegas, NV (#28), Palm Springs, CA (#30), Honolulu, HI (#32), and Atlantic City, NJ (#36). You can also find plenty of desirable locations on our list of the top 10 least dangerous popular destinations for spring break:
Echoing the sentiment of many colleges and universities throughout the country, the University of Alabama — located about 200 miles from the Florida panhandle — issued a recent statement encouraging its students to have fun but exercise caution over the break. Some of the university’s more universally applicable safety tips included:
While analyzing the data, we noticed that some of the safest destinations overall were the most dangerous in a single category. Lake Havasu, for example, was found to be the 2nd safest destination overall but the most dangerous in terms of deaths related to alcohol poisoning. In the other two categories, though, the most dangerous destinations also wound up on our top 10 list; New Orleans had the highest number of deaths related to drug overdoses, and Biloxi ranked highest for overall number of STDs.
College students, especially men, regularly underestimate the amount of alcohol they will consume while on spring break, according to a 2017 study published in the international journal Addictive Behaviors. The researchers noted that making pacts with friends about drinking and being with friends who might encourage heavy drinking led participants to consume alcohol at higher rates than they originally estimated.
Underestimating how much they would drink and receiving drinks from others were both associated with increased negative consequences related to alcohol. It’s certainly possible that underestimation of consumption and peer pressure contributed to the prevalence of alcohol poisoning deaths among the destinations we identified.
The top 10 most dangerous spring break destinations in terms of deaths due to alcohol poisoning include:
Public concern surrounding the irresponsible use of drugs during spring break reached an uproar last year after five cadets from the U.S. Military Academy West Point overdosed on fentanyl while on spring break in Fort Lauderdale, FL. All but one of the cadets, along with two other civilian individuals, required emergency hospitalization.
Despite its reputation, Florida did not end up in the top 10 most dangerous spring break destinations in terms of deaths due to drug overdoses:
The incident involving the five West Point cadets in Fort Lauderdale occurred less than a year after the White House, citing the most recent data from the CDC, announced that drug overdose deaths had reached a historic high. In the 12 months between April 2020 and April 2021, more than 106,000 Americans — 290 per day — died due to a drug overdose.
Hoping to ease the minds of the American public, including the parents of all would-be spring breakers, the Biden-Harris Administration also announced its two-part plan to rein in this epidemic:
Hopefully, this will result in a safer spring break in 2023.
According to our research, Baton Rouge and New Orleans ranked not only 1st and 2nd for cases of chlamydia but also 2nd and 3rd for cases of gonorrhea, while Miami and Fort Lauderdale ranked 1st and 2nd for the most cases of syphilis and HIV. The only destinations to land in the top five for individual STD cases that are not located in the South were:
In terms of STD infections overall, these are the top 10 most dangerous spring break destinations:
According to a study conducted by the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Washington, the risky sexual behaviors of many spring breakers — such as participating in casual sex, using alcohol before sex, and using condoms — were influenced by the environment (e.g., traveling with friends vs. a romantic partner), as well as their personal standards and beliefs regarding sex.
Of those college students who reported having sex during spring break, 16% did so with at least one casual partner, while 52% said they did not use a condom. The researchers also noted that women and those traveling with friends were both more likely to drink before having sex and less likely to use condoms.
Certain high-risk sexual behaviors, too, tended to be cumulative, meaning that those who engaged in one risky behavior (e.g., drinking) also regularly engaged in others (e.g., casual sex). Increased engagement in these behaviors and their suspected influences could certainly have contributed to higher STD rates among the destinations that appeared on our list.
In a previous Innerbody study, we broadened the scope of our analysis to 100 different cities across the U.S. and discovered a range of other geographical trends related to STD infection rates.
When we examined the top five most dangerous destinations even closer, some interesting comparisons stood out:
Of the three destinations that tracked deaths specifically related to synthetic opioids (Biloxi, Virginia Beach, and Charleston), more than half of the total number of drug-related deaths could be attributed to these substances. The other two destinations (Baton Rouge and New Orleans) — which reported significantly higher numbers of deaths due to drug overdoses — do not keep records indicating the type of substance implicated in each death.
By analyzing state data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on deaths due to drug overdoses and alcohol poisoning, as well as data on the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), we were able to determine which popular spring break destinations are likely to be the most dangerous for spring breakers looking to let loose in 2023. All values were calculated per 100,000 residents, and the scores for each category were weighted as follows:
The scores were then combined, allowing us to rank each destination from most to least dangerous. It’s also important to note that we specifically looked at the top 50 locations for spring break travel rather than the entire U.S.
Innerbody Research is committed to providing objective, science-based suggestions and research to help our readers make more informed decisions regarding health and wellness. We invested the time and effort into creating this report to ensure our readers and their families have the knowledge to make educated travel plans and safe decisions this spring break. We hope to reach as many people as possible by making this information widely available. As such, please feel free to share our content for educational, editorial, or discussion purposes. We only ask that you link back to this page and credit the author as Innerbody.com.
Ribeiro, N. F. (2018). The Cultural History of a Break: Spring Break in the Florida Panhandle, 1938-2018. journaloffloridastudies.org. Retrieved March 6, 2023, from https://www.journaloffloridastudies.org/files/vol0108/Ribeiro-Spring-Break-Panhandle.pdf
University of Alabama. (2023, March 6). Tips for having a safe spring break. University of Alabama News. Retrieved March 7, 2023, from https://news.ua.edu/2023/03/tips-for-having-a-safe-spring-break/
Lee, C. M., Patrick, M. E., Geisner, I. M., Mastroleo, N. R., Mittmann, A., & Zimmerman, L. (2017, June). Individual, interpersonal, and contextual factors associated with discrepancies between intended and actual spring break drinking. Addictive Behaviors. Retrieved March 6, 2023, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5370076/
Alonso, M., & Musa, A. (2022, March 13). 5 West Point Cadets overdose on fentanyl during spring break, police say. CNN. Retrieved March 7, 2023, from https://edition.cnn.com/2022/03/12/us/west-point-cadets-overdose-fentanyl/index.html
The United States Government. (2022, April 21). Fact sheet: White House releases 2022 National Drug Control Strategy that outlines comprehensive path forward to address addiction and the overdose epidemic. The White House. Retrieved March 7, 2023, from https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/04/21/fact-sheet-white-house-releases-2022-national-drug-control-strategy-that-outlines-comprehensive-path-forward-to-address-addiction-and-the-overdose-epidemic/
Lewis, M. A., Patrick, M. E., Mittmann, A., & Kaysen, D. L. (2014, June). Sex on the beach: The influence of social norms and trip companion on Spring Break Sexual Behavior. Prevention science: the official journal of the Society for Prevention Research. Retrieved March 7, 2023, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4028385/