Alcohol consumption increases in colder, darker environments
A new study from researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Division of Gastroenterology reveals that people living in colder, darker climates tend to drink more alcohol. Published in the online journal Hepatology, the study shows a clear correlation between cooler temperatures and lessened sunlight and increased drinking, binge drinking, and alcoholic liver disease.
The study’s senior author Ramon Bataller, M.D., Ph.D., chief of hepatology at UPMC, professor of medicine at Pitt, and associate director of the Pittsburgh Liver Research Center, commented, “It’s something that everyone has assumed for decades, but no one has scientifically demonstrated it. Why do people in Russia drink so much? Why in Wisconsin? Everybody assumes that’s because it’s cold. But we couldn’t find a single paper linking climate to alcoholic intake or alcoholic cirrhosis.”
He continued, “This is the first study that systematically demonstrates that worldwide and in America, in colder areas and areas with less sun, you have more drinking and more alcoholic cirrhosis.”
Bataller and his colleagues used data from the World Health Organization, the World Meteorological Organization, and other large data sets, to find a negative link between cooler climates (ranked by average temperature and sunlight hours) and alcohol consumption (measured by total alcohol intake per capita, total percent of the population that drinks, and presence of binge drinking).
Researchers also took religious beliefs into account when compiling their research. For example, the team made note of Middle Eastern Muslims who abstain from alcohol, as well as those living in places like Utah with its regulations that limit alcohol consumption.
The reason why alcohol may be consumed more frequently by those living in colder, darker places is that it’s a vasodilator, meaning it warms the body by increasing blood flow to the skin. Alcohol is also linked to depression, a mental health condition that has been shown to greatly affect populations living in winter-like climates.
Now armed with scientific proof, Bataller and his team believes policy initiatives targeted at ending alcoholism and liver disease should be more prevalent in colder areas of the world where such afflictions occur at a higher rate.