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Is It Cold Outside? You Might Be Drinking More

New evidence shows that where you live could affect how much wine you consume
Red wine can increase blood flow and warm you on a cold day.
Photo by: iStockphotos
Red wine can increase blood flow and warm you on a cold day.

Lexi Williams
Posted: January 7, 2019

You know the old saying, "It's all about location, location, location"? It might apply to how much alcohol you drink. Recent research published in the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases' online journal, Hepatology, shows a link between a region's climate and its average alcohol consumption—specifically, the lower the temperatures and the fewer the sunlight hours, the higher the drinking levels.

"Everybody assumes that people drink a lot in the north of America because it's cold, but we were surprised that nobody has ever studied that," Dr. Ramon Bataller, professor at the University of Pittsburgh, chief of hepatology at the university's medical center and the study's senior author, told Wine Spectator.

To investigate this hypothesis, Bataller and a multi-national team of researchers looked at data from the World Health Organization, the World Meteorological Organization and other large, public data sets to gather information on 193 countries, all 50 U.S. states, and 3,144 U.S. counties. They ran a systematic analysis of different areas' alcohol consumption patterns and levels—measured as the total intake per capita, the percent of the population that drinks, and the incidence of binge drinking—as well as the average annual sunshine hours and average temperature, to see if there is in fact a correlation between alcohol consumption and climate.

Though their research did not look at why this correlation exists, according to Bataller, there are multiple factors that likely play a part. The most prevalent is that alcohol is a vasodilator, meaning it temporarily opens the blood vessels, bringing warm blood to the skin and making the body feel warmer in cold weather. (If you've ever heard a college kid throw out the term "beer blanket," this is what they're talking about.)

Plus, colder temps and darker days can limit a person's options for leisure activities, leading them to stay indoors and drink more than they would if they were spending more time outdoors. Bataller also notes that cold weather and low quantities of sunlight are linked with depression, which could cause a person to drink more.

It's worth noting that this study does not break down a place's temperatures and daylight hours by season, so it's tough to say whether people drink more during the winter than in the summer, regardless of where they live. "I would say this study suggests that maybe [people drink more during the colder months], but the seasonal thing has not been proven by any study," Bataller said. "This is important because some of the coverage [of this study] has said that alcohol should not be advertised in the winter time. But that is not a direct consequence of the study. You can speculate that if you want, but we have not studied seasons of the year."

Like many studies that have to do with alcohol and health, this one shows a correlation, not a direct causation, and it's important to keep in mind that there are countless other factors that can determine how much an individual drinks. It's certainly not a reason to be alarmed—nor an excuse to overindulge—if you live in an area with lower temps. As long as you are conscious about how much you drink—and the reasons why you're drinking—the cold shouldn't bother you, anyway.

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