The characteristic flushed cheeks and occasional sheen of sweat on someone who’s been imbibing certainly makes you think that alcohol has an effect on body temperature, but when you drink an alcoholic beverage, does it really warm you up?
The culprit behind that warm, fuzzy feeling you get after a few drinks? Blood. Many side effects from alcohol consumption can be tied to its properties as a vasodilator (blood vessel widener), including the so-called “beer blanket” phenomenon.
Blood. Many side effects from alcohol consumption can be tied to its properties as a vasodilator (blood vessel widener), including the so-called “beer blanket” phenomenon.
“booze causes the blood vessels in your skin to dilate, shunting blood from your core to your periphery,” said Ted Simon, a neuroscientist and board-certified toxicologist who serves as an expert witness in drug and alcohol cases.
“Your body temperature isn’t actually changing; you’re just redistributing the heat,” he told Live Science.
Humans maintain a core body temperature of approximately 98 degrees Fahrenheit (37 degrees Celsius), and most of this heat is generated by your metabolism: a term which refers to all the chemical reactions involved in keeping you alive, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Your skin is inundated with sensory receptors keyed into temperature changes, so the blood redistribution that occurs when you drink alcohol sends a flood of messages to your brain saying, “It’s hot!”
While this may seem like a perk, it can actually be quite dangerous. The natural tendencies of your body — to detect cold, for example — are there to protect you from frostbite or hypothermia. Usually, your blood vessels constrict in lower temperatures in order to direct blood to your vital organs, Simon said. Alcohol reverses this process.
What’s more, because your body thinks it’s hot, you can begin to sweat — a response that is also designed to lower body temperature. Compounded with the cognitive effects of alcohol, serious complications can arise. Last year, the New York Daily News reported that “a drunken student died of hypothermia after he tried to walk nine miles home without a coat on a freezing cold night in England.”