There‘s a common belief among some people that drinking alcohol can warm you up in cold weather, and although it can make you feel warmer, alcohol causes your body temperature to drop.
You might have seen images of St. Bernard rescue dogs with a little keg of something strong around their necks – supposedly for helping to revive people lost in the snow. But does alcohol keep you warm in cold weather or is it just a myth? Read more below.
Does Alcohol Make You Warm?
Does alcohol warm you up? Drinking alcohol can certainly give you a warm and toasty feeling, and feeling tipsy or drunk can give the impression of warmth. Spirits and other alcoholic drinks can warm or even burn your throat as they go down, which can cause a feeling of warmth as you drink. This is only temporary, however, and can be very misleading into believing that you are warmer than you truly are.
While you might feel a little bit warmer in the short term, alcohol can actually cause your core temperature to drop, and this can potentially be dangerous in cold weather.
Why Does Alcohol Make You Feel Warm?
The first effect of strong alcohol such as spirits is that it produces a warm or even burning sensation in the throat. Alcohol can act as an irritant and will sting if you get it in cuts or sensitive areas, but there is some evidence that it can also stimulate some of the same areas as capsaicin – the active component of chilli peppers. This can give a feeling of heat where there is none.
Another impact of drinking alcohol is that it acts as a ‘vasodilator’ – causing blood vessels to open or dilate. One effect of this is that more blood flows into the blood vessels just below the skin. This can give you that familiar feeling of warmth but it actually draws blood away from other areas including vital organs deeper inside your body, which can lower your core temperature, meaning vital organs might not have the blood and heat they need to function properly.
Other side effects can be flushing and alcohol sweats. Sweating is a bodily function that is designed to cool you down, and as the water in the sweat evaporates, the surface of the skin cools. If alcohol makes you feel warm and sweat more when it is cold, this can lower your core body temperature even further.
Is Drinking in Winter Dangerous?
Alcohol is known to be a leading contributory factor or cause of death in urban hypothermia – including in the home and on the streets. Some people might also drink alcohol while carrying out outdoor activities such as hiking and this can also be potentially hazardous.
Drinking in winter can be potentially dangerous for a number of reasons. First of all, there is the effect of alcohol making you feel like you are warmer when your core temperature is actually falling. This is not generally a big issue in mild or warm weather but can be dangerous and even potentially fatal when it is colder.
Another big problem is that drinking alcohol can affect your decisions and make you more likely to indulge in risky behaviour. This could involve something as simple as walking home without a coat or being inappropriately dressed – especially if the alcohol is also making you feel warmer than you actually are. If you fall asleep or pass out outside, this could pose another danger. You might also be more likely to fall or suffer an accident in cold and icy conditions.
Hypoglycaemia, or low blood sugar, is often linked to diabetes but can also be caused by drinking alcohol and can have a major impact on your core temperature. This is because it can reduce shivering or prevent you from shivering entirely. Shivering is an involuntary muscle movement that generates heat and is your body’s natural response to cold.
Finally, alcohol misuse can cause all sorts of other medical issues that can make you more susceptible to cold weather. Alcohol is linked to a range of cardiovascular problems, for example, and excess winter deaths caused by heart and circulatory diseases are known to increase by more than 50% in the winter.
How to Stay Safe When Drinking
The answer to the question ‘Does alcohol make you warm?’ is a definite no. It may give a brief feeling of warmth but this is temporary and misleading, as your core temperature is actually more likely to lower your core body temperature.
There are no safe levels of alcohol but the UK Chief Medical Officers’ Low Risk Drinking Guidelines say that it is safest not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis. If you do drink 14 or more units per week, it is best to spread your drinking evenly over 3 or more days. If you have one or two heavy or binge-drinking episodes a week, you increase your risks of death from long-term illness and from accidents and injuries.
These risks can be higher when you mix alcohol and cold weather, so care should be taken when drinking during the cooler months.
Find the Help You Need Today
The UK has a drinking culture where alcohol misuse is normalised and even downplayed. It can be very harmful, however, and a serious drinking problem can develop almost without you realising. In England alone there are estimated to be more than 600,000 dependent drinkers, less than a fifth of whom are receiving any sort of treatment.
Getting the right treatment is important because alcohol addiction is incredibly difficult to overcome without expert help and advice. It can also be dangerous trying to manage alcohol withdrawal alone. At Cassiobury Court, we have a wealth of experience in helping people with a wide range of addictions to make full and long-lasting recoveries. If you are worried about your own drinking or that of a loved one, get in touch today to find out how we can help.