A recent study published in Hepatology journal has investigated the long-assumed link between alcohol consumption and living in a colder climate.

It was carried out by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, taking into account data from 193 countries; and the results suggest that there is some inverse correlation between temperature and daylight hours, and litres of alcohol consumed.

How was the study conducted?

The study took data from the World Health Organisation, the World Meteorological Organisation, and the Institute on Health Metrics and Evaluation.

It analysed:

  • average yearly daylight hours
  • average yearly temperature
  • alcohol consumption data
  • drinking behaviour data
  • health data
  • and alcohol attributable cirrhosis (liver disease).

The study took into account certain variables which might affect the results; such as the presence of viral hepatitis, obesity and tobacco use, which can also affect the liver.

They also factored in lifestyle and cultural facets of warmer countries. For example, some countries in warmer parts of the Middle East were largely Muslim, where alcohol is generally not consumed.

By analysing the data the team was able to establish a negative correlation between specific climate factors (temperature and sunlight hours) and alcohol consumption (measured total alcohol intake per capita, percentage of the population that drinks alcohol, and the incidence of binge drinking).

The data also seemed to suggest that climate may be linked to the number of incidents for alcoholic liver disease.

What causes the link between climate and alcohol consumption?

From a physical perspective, drinking alcohol can make us feel warmer. This is because the substances in alcohol act as vasodilators and send more blood to the surface of the skin (this is one reason why people may be more prone to facial flushing when drinking alcohol). Therefore whilst your core body temperature is not actually changing, you may feel a little warmer when you drink alcohol.  

But there’s a mental health dimension to this link too. Limited exposure to daylight is also thought to be associated with depression. Fewer daylight hours is the cause of a condition many people experience during winter, known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD); where shorter days lead to feelings of low mood. And there is an established link between depression with increased alcohol intake. So a consensus has developed that people living in climates with fewer daylight hours are generally more predisposed to excessive alcohol consumption.

The results of this study go even further, and actually establish a link between colder climates and alcohol-related liver disease.

How might the results be used?

An article published on the UPMC site suggested that the result might be used to inform future health policy on tackling binge drinking and alcoholism, and help to focus efforts and resources on particular geographic areas where the risk of alcohol-related disease and cirrhosis was higher.

How much alcohol is too much?

There is no recommended safe limit for alcohol consumption. Contrary to years of articles in popular media claiming that a small amount of alcohol is good for you, it’s now more widely thought that any level of alcohol use is less healthy (from a physical standpoint) than complete abstinence.

Lower risk guidelines in the UK currently are:

  • no more than 14 units per week
  • if someone does drink 14 units per week, they should spread this consumption out over three or more days
  • and observing at least two alcohol free days per week.

If you have any concerns that you may be drinking too much, there are resources available that can offer guidance, such as the NHS site, and Drinkaware.