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New research shows link between binge drinking alcohol, living in colder climates

By Ashley Williams, AccuWeather staff writer
December 12, 2018, 5:17:12 AM EST

A recent study reveals that how much alcohol a person consumes could depend on whether they live in a colder or warmer region.

New research from the University of Pittsburgh Division of Gastroenterology found that those living in colder climates with less sunlight tend to drink more alcohol than people living in warmer parts of the world.

The study, published online in Hepatology, showed that as temperatures dropped and sunlight hours decreased for certain regions, alcohol consumption rose in these areas.

Researchers noted that while it’s generally accepted that colder weather influences alcohol misuse, no previous studies have investigated cold weather’s impact on alcohol intake and alcoholic cirrhosis.

Group of people toasting with alcohol - Unsplash image

University of Pittsburgh researchers collected data from 193 sovereign countries as well as 50 states and 3,144 counties in the United States. They aimed to investigate if climate has a causal effect on alcohol consumption and its weight on alcoholic cirrhosis.

Using data from the World Health Organization and the World Meteorological Organization, researchers found a clear negative correlation between climate factors like average temperature and sunlight hours, as well as alcohol consumption, which was “measured as total alcohol intake per capita, percent of the population that drinks alcohol and the incidence of binge drinking.”

When comparing countries across the world and also when comparing U.S. counties, researchers discovered evidence that climate contributed to more cases of alcoholic liver disease.

Climate factors also were tied to binge drinking and the prevalence of alcoholic liver disease, one of the main causes of death in people with prolonged excessive alcohol use, according to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC).

“It’s something that everyone has assumed for decades, but no one has scientifically demonstrated. Why do people in Russia drink so much? Why in Wisconsin? Everybody assumes that it is because it’s cold,” said senior author Dr. Ramon Bataller, chief of hepatology at UPMC, professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh and associate director of the Pittsburgh Liver Research Center.

“We couldn’t find a single paper linking climate to alcohol intake or alcoholic cirrhosis,” Bataller said in a press release. “This is the first study that systematically demonstrates that worldwide and in America, in colder areas and areas with less sun, you have more drinking and more alcoholic cirrhosis.”

Because alcohol is a vasodilator, which means it increases warm blood flow to the skin and its temperature sensors, consuming alcohol can increase feelings of warmth. In Siberia, this sensation could be pleasant, but not so much in the Sahara, according to the UPMC.

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Drinking alcohol is also linked to depression, which tends to worsen with scarce sunlight and chilly weather conditions.

“It’s important to highlight the many confounding factors,” said lead author Meritxell Ventura-Cots, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher at the Pittsburgh Liver Research Center. “We tried to control for as many as we could. For instance, we tried to control for religion and how that influences alcohol habits.”

It was critical to researchers that the study’s results were still valid even when excluding Muslim-majority countries that mostly abstain from alcohol consumption.

Researchers also took into account Utah’s regulations that limit alcohol intake.

When looking for patterns of cirrhosis, researchers had to control for health factors that might exacerbate alcohol’s impacts on the liver, including viral hepatitis, obesity and smoking.

The new research suggests that policy initiatives aimed at reducing the burden of alcoholism and alcoholic liver disease should target geographic areas where alcohol is more likely to be problematic, according to the UPMC.

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