Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! And Hypothermia?

Over this past Halloween weekend, it was very cold in State College. However, this did not cause the ladies to cover up much skin. It can be assumed, that before heading out to participate in different festivities, some of the ladies and gentlemen had alcoholic beverages before in hopes of keeping the cold away. But did this actually work? Will alcohol really help people stay warm? The old tradition of the St. Bernard dogs carrying brandy on their collars to people stuck in the mountains may not have been the best idea. Let’s take a closer look.

A study was done by the US Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine on the true effects of alcohol on the human body in the cold. The study showed that alcohol significantly reduced the body’s ability to shiver. The alcohol makes people feel warmer and thus lessens the body’s instinct to shiver. What was interesting was that the study did not reveal the exact mechanism in the alcohol that causes the body to be unable to shiver. The exact explanation from the researchers’ paper is: “Many agents are known either to exacerbate or modulate alcohol’s effects on thermoregulation, although the mechanism(s) for these effects are not clear.” Thermoregulation is the ability a body has to regulate temperature within, even though the external contents are not conducive to the necessary core temperature. What’s vital to understand however, is why does alcohol cause the core temperature to drop so drastically?

Alcohol is referred to as a “vasodilator” which means it widens the blood vessels. In cold weather, blood usually rushes away from the skin to the organs in order to maintain a safe core temperature. So while we may feel cold, our core temperature is being sustained. When alcohol is consumed, this process is reversed. Blood rushes to the skin and thus causes the organs to receive less attention, which is much more dangerous than feeling chilly. The surface of the skin thus feels very warm, and the person will think they are warm because their skin is warm. The warm skin also causes a person to sweat, further cooling the core temperature. As mentioned earlier regarding the study, when a person consumes alcohol they are less likely to shiver, which allows the body to naturally warm up. Since the person physically feels warmer, they do not shiver. So what’s the take away?

More studies need to be done to pinpoint the exact mechanism in alcohol that causes a person to feel warmer. If we can understand the mechanism that is leading to the warmer skin, maybe it can be lessened, without lessening the quality of the alcohol so that people are more aware of their actual body temperature. Unlike how the bacteria in beer was found to be the mechanism causing stomach cancer, the exact link for alcohol causing warmth is still lacking. Further analysis of the content of alcohol must be done in order to insure people’s safety. The number one concern when drinking is safety. While the exact mechanism is not yet known, the misconception cannot continue that alcohol keeps you warm in frigid weather. It may make the consumer FEEL more comfortable but it will not make them anymore immune to the cold weather. Overall, if drinking in the cold, do so responsibly and bundle up!


6 thoughts on “Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! And Hypothermia?

  1. Andrea Marie Linn

    Especially when you are stating your research in a study, it is extremely important to state exactly where things are coming from and what they are. If not, you are leaving many holes in the study. The thing is, would people actually care about the findings. If they have alcohol in their system and are feeling warm, they won’t be thinking about the affects they’re doing to their bodies, especially with a little liquid courage in them. Even so, people should know if the weather is cold to take at least a light jacket with them. Anything would help. In this article: it mentions some statistics about how many people feel sick when they drink by gender and age.

  2. Gregory Joseph Macqueen

    Being on such large campus, this really applies to a large majority of the students here. A lot of times you hear people talking about putting on their “beer coat” (consuming enough alcoholic beverages so that you do not feel the cold as much) before they go outside at night, but it seems that this could actually be very dangerous. After reading this post I became so much more curious about why this happens and the effects it can have on people. In an article I found on “Today I Found” it seems that scientists are fairly certain that alcohol does make it MORE likely to get hypothermia because of how alcohol warms up your skin, taking blood away from vital internal organs. I think this study could rule out reverse causation and thus make the results pretty reliable. College kids should be more aware of this issue because it could very strongly impact their decisions.

  3. Xiaotong Wang

    After reading this post, I recalled something I have done in my high school that when I got a little drunk, I’d like to hang out with my friend in low temperature because both of us cannot feel cold. In that time, the reason I thought was that when people got drunk, they became very excited then, and the excitation distract them from cold weather, but now, after reading your article and one article in I started to realize that the alcohol does help people get warm, but that warm showed temporarily, and when people lose the heat they need for survival, they will die from hypothermia like you said in article.

  4. Rebecca Sorensen

    This is a great topic that everyone on campus can relate to. People think that they do not need to bundle up because once they drink, they will be warm enough so wearing warm clothes won’t matter. This can lead to dangerous consequences because they will not be properly prepared for the cold. And in a place like State College, the cold is no joke. I actually had no idea why alcohol makes people feel warmer, so this was really interesting to read about and find out why. This article ( talks about some myths associated with drinking alcohol, including the myth that it keeps you warm. Definitely interesting to read, and great post!

  5. Jesenia A Munoz

    This definitely explains everyone feeling 10x more like crap the next morning (aside from any alcohol sickness they may endure). I never looked into this although I knew that there were definitely downfalls to not feeling the cold while intoxicated. Although I don’t personally tend to sweat much at all even after having an alcoholic beverage, I know people who do so profusely and they tend to usually get sick soon after that night out.
    Here is an article further discussing the matter:

  6. Valerie Ortense

    This blog has me thinking about alcohol and all the amazing things it can do (and i do not mean make people fall on their faces). I am talking about cleaning and disinfecting. Why is it that alcohol is used in germ-x and some cleaning supplies? What component in alcohol makes it so dangerous to germs? If it has such negative effects on the body, why would it be used in any cleaning products or disinfecting products at all? One last question, is it the alcohol in the hand sanitizer that makes your hands so dry and brittle after using it? Or something else? I’ll have to look into it. Oh, and thanks for the tip about bundling up!

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