Why drinking booze to stay warm is a terrible (and dangerous) idea

When you're having an alcoholic drink outdoors in cold weather, that cozy rush of warmth is a false friend.

It's a very old myth: Feeling cold? Have some booze, it'll warm you right up. Who hasn't seen those old pictures of a St. Bernard bounding to the rescue with a small barrel of brandy around its neck to fortify some luckless traveller until help can arrive?

Aside from the fact that cozy image probably never had a basis in reality, the truth is, if you're outside in the cold for a long period of time and you're not careful, a few draughts of alcohol may actually seal your fate.

The thing about that famed warm feeling is that it's a complete illusion. Alcohol, on its own, doesn't warm you up. What it DOES do is cause your blood vessels to dilate, sending more blood than normal to your skin, giving you the feeling of warmth while actually making you lose heat much faster.

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Doctors say alcohol and cold weather don't mix. Photo: Unsplash.

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The Cleveland Clinic says this process does stave off frostbite for awhile, but that's a meagre benefit far outweighed by the plunge in your core temperature.

Increasing the risk, depending on how much you've had, your bogus beer blanket may team up with alcohol's most famous side effect of impairing your judgement.

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Lulled into a false sense of warmth, and not thinking as straight as normal, you may be tempted to shed a layer or two, accelerating heat loss while your cold-weather survival instincts are dulled. If at the end of the night you decide to walk home in the icy cold rather than getting a taxi or a lift, then you may find yourself at the very real risk of hypothermia.

As with everything else around alcohol, you'll be fine if you drink responsibly, which in cold weather means limiting your exposure, dressing warm, avoiding getting drunk, keeping hydrated, and keeping a sober friend nearby if you need help.

And if you absolutely need a quick warmup on a cold day, a hot drink like coffee or cocoa will do the job for real.

Editor's Note: The video that leads this article was filmed prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.