There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest that people who live in cold places drink a lot of alcohol. Think of Russia, for instance, whose culture is steeped in vodka production and consumption. Or the northern state of Wisconsin, home to 10 of the 20 “drunkest” cities in America, according to the website 24/7 Wall Street.
Now, a recent study published in the science journal Hepatology has demonstrated a statistical correlation between cold climates and alcohol intake. Using data collected from groups such as the World Health Organization, the World Meteorological Organization, and the Institute on Health Metrics and Evaluation, researchers determined that cold weather produces higher ratios of heavy drinkers and binge drinkers, as well as higher rates of alcoholic liver disease.
Why people in cold places drink more alcohol
While no one knows for sure exactly why this link between climate and alcohol consumption exists, researchers have proposed a few theories:
Alcohol makes you feel warm
Alcohol is a vasodilator, which means it widens your blood vessels, causing blood to flow to your outer extremities and create a sensation of warmth in your skin. In cold weather, you may feel like drinking warms you up – but in reality, it actually reduces your core body temperature, leaving you at risk for dangerous side effects like hypothermia.
Alcohol provides a temporary escape
The temporary buzz you get from drinking alcohol can provide comfort during dark, chilly winter months. When you’re drunk, feelings of anxiety, loneliness, and desolation are replaced with pleasant sensations. But once it wears off, the uncomfortable feelings return.
Alcohol is linked to depression
The lack of sunlight we experience in the winter months is linked to seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a major depressive disorder that usually begins in September or October and lasts all the way through to the spring. People who suffer from SAD, or any other type of depression, are more likely to use alcohol as a way to self-medicate.
The link between cold weather and alcoholic liver disease
Not only did the study establish a connection between cold climates and excessive drinking, but it also found a causal link between the weather and the frequency of cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is a serious condition characterized by extreme scarring of the liver, resulting from long-term, repeated damage. Most of the time, cirrhosis is irreversible and life-threatening.
While there are several factors that can contribute to liver damage associated with cirrhosis, one of the most common causes is alcohol consumption. In this study, researchers controlled for alternative causes of cirrhosis, such as viral hepatitis, obesity, and smoking, and were able to identify a definitive link between cold weather, drinking, and the incidence of alcoholic cirrhosis.
The harm of short-term binge drinking
While cirrhosis is often the result of years of heavy drinking, intermittent binge drinking can pose an equally serious threat to the health of your liver. According to researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, seven weeks of sporadic binge drinking is enough to cause the symptoms of alcoholic liver disease.
Binge drinking is defined as five or more drinks for men, or four or more drinks for women, in the span of two hours. Heavy drinking, on the other hand, is defined as more than one drink per day for women, or more than two drinks per day for men. Both regular heavy drinkers and occasional binge drinkers are at risk of developing irreversible liver damage – and studies show that many binge drinkers go on to develop alcohol use disorders down the line.
Pearson offers alcohol treatment studies for those struggling with alcohol abuse
In San Diego County, we can’t claim the weather gets anywhere near as cold as it does in Russia or Wisconsin, but no matter where you are or how warm or cold it is, excessive drinking can be equally harmful. If you find yourself unable to stop binge drinking or you’ve been struggling with a long-term heavy drinking problem, the Pearson Center for Alcoholism and Addiction Research can help. Using a variety of techniques, our treatment studies address the causes and symptoms of both binge drinking and heavy drinking to find innovative solutions to problems with alcohol abuse.
For more information on participating in one of our studies, call us at (858) 784-7867.