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It is a rare day that I head out into the winter wilds without a flask of sumpt'n-sumpt'n in my pocket. A nip helps one to relax, can mildly embolden timid skiers in my group, and gives one that fiery radiating warmth upon imbibing.

Its this latter I am curious about: Does whiskey (or other spirits) actually have warming benefits? Or is it just psychological?

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This was tested and “busted” on MythBusters:

Turns out, just one alcoholic drink could make you feel warmer, but it actually lowers your core body temperature.

How does alcohol employ this rule of opposites? Alcohol may make your skin feel warm, but this apparent heat wave is deceptive. A nip or two actually causes your blood vessels to dilate, moving warm blood closer to the surface of your skin, making you feel warmer temporarily. At the same time, however, those same veins pumping blood closer to the skin's surface cause you to lose core body heat - the heat you need to survive, especially if you're stuck in a snowdrift . This effect could lead to fatal hypothermia.

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Please don't drink alcohol to stay warm. It may make you feel slightly warmer temporarily, but it isn't actually helping you.

According to my favourite volume on Wilderness Medicine (page 156), a small nip won't hurt you if you already have a cold-induced injury. However, it is strongly correlated with cold-induced injury, due to the cognitive impairment and loss of pain perception.

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Thanks for the answer, but for me to accept it, we need the critical info in-house (and not dependent on links (which die)). Also, "drinking" and "getting drunk" are not synonymous... – Lost Mar 18 '13 at 23:18
That is a completely fair point. I have consulted the most authoritative source I know of for wilderness medicine and asked my favourite doctor, and they both agree. Information above. – theJollySin Mar 19 '13 at 2:02
Also, alcohol leads to dehydration. Hence having alcohol to warm yourself at higher altitudes can kill you. – Unsung Mar 19 '13 at 13:01

theJollySin is right. Your body adjusts to seasons by changing the viscosity of your blood. Thicker in winter to help stay warm, thinner in summer to help stay cool. Essentially, alcohol thins your blood, simulating what your body does to drop its temperature. Drink your whiskey, but sit close to the fire.


The warming effect is not psychological. It's physiological. You feel like it's making you warmer, but it's not.

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Not entirely correct - it is somewhat physiological (see Richard's answer.) You're right overall though in that it's definitely not a good thing! – berry120 Mar 19 '13 at 12:06
Yeah, it's overstating it to say it's not psychological - it certainly is partly that. – Don Branson Mar 19 '13 at 13:14

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