How Alcohol Consumption During Winter Leads to Added Risk

Beer in winter
Photo by KatarinaGondova/

Drinking alcohol to excess, even drinking any amount of alcohol, for that matter, has its own inherent risks no matter what time of year the alcohol is being consumed. However, during the winter months, people who drink to excess put themselves in even further danger.

From increased risk of experiencing hypothermia to additional driving risk, from higher chances of risky alcohol consumption due to holiday celebration to additional risk from individual, seasonal struggles, alcohol and winter simply do not mix.

Alcohol and Hypothermia

One study published in the Journal of Wilderness Medicine made a strong case for the increased harm that people put themselves in when they drink alcohol and expose themselves to cold weather. Citing authors Freund, O'Brien, and Young: “It appears that alcohol ingestion can indeed increase the risk of hypothermia during cold exposure. Despite initial feelings of warmth following alcohol ingestion, the potential loss of cold perception, as well as the possibility of impaired judgement, places an individual at an increased risk for accidental hypothermia. In addition, as hypothermia progresses, individuals often lose motor control and appear clumsy.”

And that journal is not the only place where alcohol consumption is listed as a risk factor for hypothermia. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also list “people who drink alcohol or use illicit drugs” as being one of the most at-risk demographics for hypothermia.

Drinkaware, an online U.K. database for information on the harms and dangers of alcohol misuse, also quoted prominent researchers on the risks that people who drink to excess face, especially when they drink to excess in cold, outdoor temperatures.

Quoting Professor Colin Drummond, head of Alcohol Research at King's College London, “When you drink, it dilates the peripheral blood vessels near your skin, which means more blood—and heat—flows to these vessels. That takes blood and heat away from the core of your body. So while it feels like you're warm because your skin is warm, your vital organs aren't as warm as you might think they are. If you then go out in the cold after drinking, because you've got a lot of heat on the periphery of your body you can lose heat very easily and quickly. And that can be dangerous.”

Other Risks of Drinking During the Winter Months

Ambulance in winter
Photo by Ishkabibbel/

In just the few days surrounding Christmas and New Year’s Day, about 300 Americans die as a direct result of drunk driving. An average of 27 Americans die every day in December due to drunk-driving car accidents.

In addition to hypothermia risk, the winter months pose additional risks for those who drink, e.g., icy roads. Furthermore, the holidays add an additional layer of risk, as those who drink alcohol may be compelled to drink more than they usually would (because of the holiday season and the added festivities).

Between increased risk for hypothermia, an increased danger on the roads, and increased prevalence of alcohol and drinking patterns during the holidays, the winter season poses a range of additional risk factors that are not present during other seasons.

Alcohol Abuse – A Leading Cause of Death and Harm in the U.S.

Last but not least, it’s worth mentioning that alcohol misuse puts one at serious risk any time of the year. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism:

  • An estimated 95,000 Americans die from alcohol-related causes every year, making alcohol the third leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. after tobacco and poor diet/lack of physical activity.
  • Of those 95,000, between 9,000 and 10,000 die in drunk driving accidents each year.
  • Alcohol misuse is also extremely costly. Even if one does not die from drinking alcohol, the cost of a daily drinking habit is exorbitant, especially when added medical complications and lost productivity factors are considered.
  • Globally, about six percent of all deaths that occur worldwide are directly attributable to alcohol consumption.
  • According to the data, about ten percent of U.S. children live with a parent who drinks alcohol excessively.

Alcohol misuse may cause more harm during the winter months, or it may at least open the door to specific types of harm that people who drink would not face during the rest of the year. But it should be known that all forms of alcohol misuse during all days of the season and all seasons of the year presents a severe risk.

Offering a Way Out with Drug and Alcohol Addiction Treatment

Lonely man crying during visit to psychologist

If you know someone who is struggling with an addiction to alcohol, please do everything you can to help them before it is too late. Alcohol addiction cannot be overcome on one’s own. People who are addicted to alcohol must seek help at residential drug and alcohol rehab centers before it is too late.

Narconon Arrowhead offers a safe and effective pathway to total freedom from alcohol addiction, freedom that lasts a lifetime. Utilizing a unique, time-tested program found nowhere else, Narconon Arrowhead helps recovering addicts address the underlying issues and personal struggles that caused them to turn to alcohol misuse in the first place. It helps them find healthy and meaningful methods of facing life’s challenges, all in such a way that the individual will never again turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism. Please contact Narconon today to take the first step towards helping your loved one get their life back.




After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.