Some who play or work in the cold believe a sip of alcohol will help keep them warm.
But the Tennessee Department of Health is reminding residents that drinking alcohol in any quantity can actually expose a person to greater risk of hypothermia, the potentially fatal condition of abnormally low core body temperature.
“When a person drinks alcohol, blood flow to the skin increases, producing a feeling of temporary warmth,” said Dr. David Reagan, chief medical officer for the Health Department. “That’s dangerous because the body’s normal reaction to cold is to move blood in the opposite direction, from the skin to our body core, to protect vital organs. The increased blood in the skin after drinking alcohol causes our bodies to lose heat more rapidly, increasing the possibility of life-threatening hypothermia.”
The early symptoms of hypothermia – being confused, sleepy, apathetic, delirious or clumsy – can be mistaken for having consumed too much alcohol. Some people may not recognize what is happening and may not be able to think clearly and seek warm shelter because these changes may occur slowly.
Officials with the Health Department suggest avoiding alcohol, dressing in layers, changing out of wet clothesm, and limiting time outdoors to avoid hypothermia. Adopting a buddy system is also recommended so friends can check on one another often to look for signs of cold weather health problems.