Booze makes you feel all warm and fuzzy, sure. But does it actually ward off the cold weather?
That’s what Thomas Drummond, of Jackson, Mo., thought when he crashed his car into a ditch in the wee hours of the morning. He was stuck, it was freezing outside, and he just happened to have some brandy in the car.
By the time emergency workers reached him two hours later, he was “unresponsive,” but Drummond maintained he’d gotten smashed after the accident, not before.
A 12-person jury bought it, and found Drummond not guilty of driving while intoxicated, according to the Southeast Missourian. But is there any biological basis to the first-aid folk tale that tipple keeps you toasty?
Yes and no, says Dr. Sam Zakhari of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. When we drink alcohol, our blood vessels widen, causing increased blood flow, and bringing more heat to the skin. “If you’re sitting at home in a sweater and having dinner, the heat in the skin is kept in the skin, which is fine,” he says.
But if you’re outside in the cold and you drink, the heat on your skin dissipates into the atmosphere. “You’ll lose heat, and feel a lot colder,” says Zakhari. Unless, he adds, you’re dressed very warmly, or doing something physical, like skiing. (Good news for those of us who like to carry a wee flask of Schnapps on the slopes.)
What saved Drummond from hypothermia – or worse – was staying in his car, with the transmission in park and the motor running until help arrived. And while alcohol may have helped him feel warmer, it was a boneheaded move, says Zakhari. What if his rescuers were calling to him, and he was too drunk to respond?
“Drinking wouldn’t be my first choice,” he says. “Unless you’re giving up.”
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