How drinking alcohol makes you vulnerable in cold weather
By Ashley Williams, AccuWeather staff writer
When you’re out drinking and enjoying time with family and friends this winter, keep in mind that the effects of alcohol can make your body more vulnerable in extremely low temperatures.
New Year’s Eve is already one of the busiest times for alcohol-related emergency room visits, statistics show.
Adding cold weather exposure into the mix can further exacerbate alcohol-related risks.
A major danger stems from the fact that alcohol can make people feel much warmer than they actually are as they consume drinks at football games or during New Year’s celebrations.
“Alcohol may give a false sense of warmth and heat in the body,” said Dr. Jagdish Khubchandani, associate professor of community health at Indiana’s Ball State University.
“This is because alcohol dilates blood vessels, increasing the blood flow to the limbs and [the body’s periphery],” he said.
In reality, the greater blood flow to the limbs, which causes a sensation of warmth, leads to heat loss, resulting in lower core body temperature, Khubchandani said.
Drinking alcohol is often associated with cases of hypothermia, which occurs when a person’s body temperature drops to dangerous levels due to exposure to extreme cold, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Those with heart conditions should be especially cautious.
The false sense of warmth that occurs when drinking in frigid conditions might cause them to underestimate the extra strain that cold weather places on the body, according to the American Heart Association.
Drinking alcohol also impacts the body’s ability to shiver, thus removing one of the ways the body combats exposure to cold weather, according to a study by the United States Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine.
Another danger arises from alcohol’s tendency to impair judgment.
“People feel warm, so they don’t put on gloves, they don’t dress appropriately and then you take that to the extreme, when people drink to a terrible excess, they [can] pass out in the snow outside,” said Dr. Michael Dick, who specializes in emergency medicine at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
“You then see the severe cases of hypothermia or frostbite,” he added.
If you’re drinking outside in the frigid air, medical experts advise having a sober friend keep an eye on you to make sure you’re taking precautions to keep warm.
“Maybe it makes sense that if you’re going to be in extreme weather situations that you also have somebody who says, ‘Listen, you need to make sure that you put on your gloves, you need to make sure that you put on your coat, you’re not thinking correctly,'” Dick said.
Drinking in moderation, being aware of your surroundings and alternating alcoholic beverages with non-alcoholic drinks are also recommended.
“If you have to [drink] alcohol, ensure that you eat a lot of fatty food or carbs before that, and add a vitamin supplement, if possible,” Khubchandani suggested.
Alcohol consumption robs the body of a proper diet as well as vitamins and minerals because it suppresses appetite, he said.
“This can be dangerous, given that cold weather warrants that people consume enough nutritious food and generate enough energy,” Khubchandani said.
Experts also advised wearing appropriate clothing, avoiding icy or very cold drinks and knowing your limit while drinking alcohol.
For more safety and preparedness tips, visit AccuWeather.com/Ready.
Comments that don't add to the conversation may be automatically or manually removed by Facebook or AccuWeather. Profanity, personal attacks, and spam will not be tolerated.
More Weather News
Weather News - December 15, 2018, 11:12:03 PM EST
Storm Deirdre caused travel hazards, power outages and disruptions this weekend across the United Kingdom.
Weather News - December 15, 2018, 11:38:54 PM EST
Large storms and cold air are likely to take a break over much of the nation during much of the week ahead of the Christmas holiday.
Weather News - December 15, 2018, 11:36:03 PM EST
A storm will continue to bring rain, fog, ice and a wintry mix to parts of the northeastern United States this weekend.
Weather News - December 16, 2018, 1:16:20 AM EST
Rain, wind, mountain snow and rough surf will lash the Northwest and California through Sunday night as the barrage of Pacific storms continues.
Florence-ravaged areas face more river flooding as Wilmington, North Carolina, hits 100-inch yearly rain total
Weather News - December 16, 2018, 1:02:13 AM EST
Flooding will plague residents living along many swollen rivers in the southeastern United States despite dry weather taking hold through Wednesday.
Weather News - December 15, 2018, 10:29:25 AM EST
Residents of northern Queensland are enduring a second and more severe strike by former-Tropical Cyclone Owen.
Weather News - December 15, 2018, 9:41:16 AM EST
Holiday shopping plans and festivities can be disrupted as a period of snow or icy mix is anticipated to cause slick travel from northern France to Germany into Sunday.
Weather News - December 16, 2018, 12:57:06 AM EST
Strengthening Cyclonic Storm Phethai in the Bay of Bengal may become a severe cyclonic storm with eventual impacts to eastern India into early week.