Alcohol and cold weather
Why you have to be extra careful if you're drinking when the weather is cold.
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It’s important that you take extra care outdoors if it’s cold and you have been drinking.
Alcohol can make you think that you’re warm, but this is deceptive. When you drink, alcohol affects the blood vessels just below your skin. They open up and more blood, and heat, flows into them.1 That takes blood and heat away from the core of your body. So while you might feel like you’re warm because your skin is warm, your vital organs aren’t getting enough blood to work normally.
Alcohol can impair our decision-making ability, which can lead us to take risks we wouldn’t when sober.2 The combination of drinking alcohol and cold weather can be lethal. For example, taking the decision to walk home without a jacket when it’s snowing could lead to a dramatic fall in your body temperature, leading to hypothermia.3 And severe hypothermia can be fatal if not identified and treated promptly.
Drinking also affects our balance and our ability to judge our surroundings, which makes tripping or falling over more common, especially with icy pavements.
Knowing how you’re getting home, sticking with friends and wearing warm clothes and sensible footwear will help to ensure you have a safe night out. And make sure to stay well within the UK Chief Medical Officers’ low risk drinking guidelines of no more than 14 units a week to keep the dangers and health risks from alcohol to a low level. If you regularly drink as much as this, it’s safest to spread your drinking evenly over three or more days.
 K Anderson, V Nisenblat & R Norman 2010; ‘Lifestyle factors in people seeking infertility treatment – A review’. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Vol.50, Issue 1, pp8--202
 Gan, G., Guevara, A., Marxen, M., Neumann, M., Jünger, E., Kobiella, A., Mennigen, E., Pilhatsch, M., Schwarz, D., Zimmermann, U.S. and Smolka, M.N., 2014. Alcohol-induced impairment of inhibitory control is linked to attenuated brain responses in right fronto-temporal cortex. Biological psychiatry, 76(9), pp.698-707. Available at: biologicalpsychiatryjournal.com/article/S0006-3223(14)00015-8/abstract. [Accessed 23 February 2017].
 Schreurs, C.J., Van Hoof, J.J. and Van Der Lely, N. (2017). Hypothermia and acute alcohol intoxication in Dutch adolescents: The relationship between core and outdoor temperatures. Journal of Substance Use, 22(4), 449-453.
Last Reviewed: 8th March 2021
Next Review due: 8th March 2024