The Dangers of Alcohol and Cold Temperatures

The arrival of the polar vortex earlier this week brought plummeting temperatures across the country and record lows in the Midwest.

The struggle to stay toasty and warm when faced with the bitter chill isn’t always easy. There are a variety of tactics to fight the freeze, such as warm fires, fuzzy blankets, and lots and lots of layers. But, there is one tactic that’s best left out in the cold: the alcohol jacket.

The alcohol jacket can turn up anywhere, but it is most often worn by otherwise inadequately clothed young adults on any given Friday night at college campuses and bar districts across the country. The feeling of warmth and confidence that alcohol provides is an alluring and dangerous mix. As the temperatures drop, it is important to remember that the alcohol jacket is at best, a false sense of security, and at worst, a recipe for disaster and death.

Why Does Alcohol Make Me Feel Warm?

The warm feeling that appears after a few drinks is due to alcohol’s vasodilating effects. Blood flow increases near the skin’s surface, creating the illusion of warmth. The dangerous irony of this reaction is that it inhibits one of the body’s main defenses against the cold: vasoconstriction. Vasoconstriction minimizes blood flow to the skin, which keeps the vital core body temperature up. Bodily organs begin to lose warmth. And as the blood rushes to the skin, another paradoxical effect takes place. You start to sweat; a tactic normally used by the body to cool you down. Furthermore, alcohol may reduce the body’s ability to shiver in response to cold.

Dangers of Drinking and Cold Weather

The dangers of drinking and cold weather continue to rise with increasing levels of alcohol consumption. When alcohol consumption reaches the point of affecting decision making and losing consciousness, the results can become deadly.

In December 2013, a sophomore at the University of Minnesota fell asleep on the porch of her home after a night of drinking. As temperatures dropped below zero, her hands and feet froze. A passerby discovered her in critical condition the next morning. And although she had to undergo many amputations, she is one of the lucky ones.

In 2014, a 32-year-old mother froze to death outside of home while intoxicated. According to her family, she had struggled against alcoholism for many years.

In 2016, a 21-year-old Milwaukee woman left a house party in subzero temperatures wearing shorts and a tank top. She froze to death on the sidewalk only a few blocks from the party she had attended. She had reportedly been drinking.

These are just a few of the stories that serve as harrowing reminders for us all during this chilly season.

So, when looking for ways to keep warm this weekend, skip the alcohol jacket and opt for a regular old coat instead.

And as always, if you feel that you or a loved one’s alcohol consumption has become unmanageable, please give us a call at Williamsville Wellness. We would love to help.

By: Kristen Barney