Page last updated: February 15, 2019
Colder, darker climates increase alcohol consumption and liver disease

According to new research from the University of Pittsburgh’s Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, people living in colder regions with less sunlight drink more alcohol than their warm-weather counterparts.

The study, recently published online in the journal Hepatology, found that as temperature and sunlight hours dropped, alcohol consumption increased. Climate factors also were tied to binge drinking and the prevalence of alcoholic liver disease.

Using data from the World Health Organization, the World Meteorological Organization and other large, public data sets, Bataller’s group found a clear negative correlation between climate factors — average temperature and sunlight hours — and alcohol consumption, measured as total alcohol intake per capita, percent of the population that drinks alcohol and the incidence of binge drinking.

“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,” said senior author Ramon Bataller, chief of hepatology at UPMC, professor of medicine at Pitt and associate director of the Pittsburgh Liver Research Center. “But we couldn’t find a single paper linking climate to alcohol intake or alcoholic cirrhosis. 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.”

Alcohol is a vasodilator — it increases the flow of warm blood to the skin, which is full of temperature sensors — so drinking can increase feelings of warmth. Drinking also is linked to depression, which tends to be worse when sunlight is scarce and there’s a chill in the air. The authors suggest that policy initiatives aimed at reducing the burden of alcoholism and alcoholic liver disease should target geographic areas where alcohol is more likely to be problematic.

Source: Colder weather and fewer sunlight hours increase alcohol consumption and alcoholic cirrhosis worldwide. Meritxell Ventura-Cots, Ariel E. Watts, Monica Cruz-Lemini et al. Hepatology, First published: 16 October 2018
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