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The Science of the Beer Jacket: Why Drinking Makes You Feel Warmer

Guzzling suds to keep warm may seem like a good idea, but as always, the alcohol is just playing tricks on you

There are a few common ways to stay warm in winter. Bundling up until you feel like you’re wearing three sleeping bags and can’t lift your arms is one. Another is drinking a bunch of booze until you get your beer coat — an invisible force that miraculously seems to keep you warm when you’re absolutely hammered. But does beer or other alcohol actually increase your body temperature, or is this just your booze-soaked brain playing tricks on you yet again?

Prepare to be disappointed… 

“The feeling that your body gets warmer when you drink is an illusion,” emphasizes Aaron White, senior scientific advisor at the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol widens the tiny blood vessels right under the skin, so they quickly fill with warm blood. This makes your skin feel warm or hot, but your body temperature actually drops as the warm blood flows away from the core of the body.”

Or as nutritionist Jade Taylor explains to Cosmopolitan, “To metabolize the alcohol consumed, the liver gives off heat. This can create the feeling of warmth, but the body’s core temperature is lowering. There is a turn in blood supply in the body which generates a feeling of warmth, furthering the risk of a person believing they are warm whilst their temperature is dropping.”

This might seem like another one of those silly drunk moments, but it can turn dangerous when you consider that booze also throws off your body’s ability to warm itself back up. “Alcohol also disrupts the area of your brain — the hypothalamus — that controls temperature regulation,” White explains. “The result is that, instead of maintaining a steady core temperature of about 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature of the body becomes influenced more by the temperature of the environment around it. As a result, the core body temperature increases in hot environments and drops in cold environments.”

In freezing winter weather, you can see how this could result in some seriously perilous situations. “This could lead to hypothermia, which occurs when core body temperature falls below 95 degrees Fahrenheit,” White warns. “Even if an intoxicated person feels warm enough in a cold environment, it would be wise for them to wear a coat.”

Well, you heard the man: Don’t drink and snowball-fight while shirtless.