Having a Cold One Out in the Cold? 5 Safety Tips

How drinking outdoors in winter can put you at risk

Man having a beer outside during winter

“Have a shot of whiskey — it’ll warm you up!” You’ve likely heard that saying (or something similar) but don’t let it fool you. Truth: Cold-weather drinking is dangerous.

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“Alcohol and exposure to cold is a dangerous combination,” says emergency medicine specialist Thomas Waters, MD. “If you’re going to drink in cold weather, you should know how to prepare.”

Here’s what you can expect if you decide to imbibe at your next playoff season tailgate.

Problem No. 1: Alcohol gives you a false sense of warmth

When you drink, your blood vessels dilate, sending more blood to your skin. It makes you feel warmer, but you’re actually losing your body heat to the outside environment faster.

Basically, you’re turning on your radiator to send your heat out into the environment. You might feel warm, but it creates a dangerous situation.

While it may help prevent frostbite in your fingers, sending blood to your skin takes it away from your core, heart, vital organs and brain. As a result, your body temperature drops.

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This is particularly dangerous if you have heart problems.

Problem No. 2: Bad decisions in cold weather are more dangerous

Feeling warm and taking off your jacket, sweater or gloves outside increases your hypothermia risk.

Snow increases the danger, as well. If you get wet, you’ll lose heat 25 times faster, Dr. Waters says.

Problem No. 3: Alcohol is a diuretic

The more you drink, the more frequently you’ll need to use the bathroom.

“Alcohol causes you to urinate a lot, which speeds up dehydration,” he says. “That, in turn, can make you more prone to hypothermia.”

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Cold weather safety tips

While the safest option is to avoid drinking in the cold, if you choose to drink, follow these tips to help keep yourself safe, Dr. Waters says.

  1. Wear warm clothing and dress in layers so you can take a layer or two off and put them back on as needed.
  2. Eat fatty or high-carb foods before drinking.
  3. Don’t drink beverages that are too cold, particularly ones with ice.
  4. Alternate alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.
  5. Keep a sober friend with you to ensure that you make responsible decisions.

Most importantly, keep in mind that drinking in cold weather has the potential for danger.

“Just remember — everything in moderation,” Dr. Waters says. “Having proper knowledge of the situation and preparing for it can keep you out of harm’s way.”

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