Health and wellness

Colder weather and less sunlight are linked to more drinking, global alcohol study finds

  • The study found people in Ukraine drank more than twice as much as Italians
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 November, 2018, 6:15am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 November, 2018, 6:15am

With Northern Hemisphere days getting colder and shorter, a new study from the University of Pittsburgh gives reason to think about the odd relationship between alcohol and weather.

It found that throughout the world, drinking levels and liver disease correlated with climate and sunlight. Drinking and disease rose as average temperatures and hours of sunlight fell.

The study, which was published in the journal Hepatology, has public health implications at a time when deaths from cirrhosis of the liver have been rising, particularly among 25- to 34-year-olds. Ramon Bataller, senior author and chief of hepatology at University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre, said knowing that heavy drinking is more common in colder climes could help officials who want to reduce damage from alcohol to direct resources toward regions at the highest risk. He also suggested that someone with a family history of alcoholism who has a choice between jobs in, say, Missouri and Minnesota would do well to pick the warmer state.

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The World Health Organisation estimates that almost 6 per cent of deaths throughout the world can be attributed to alcohol misuse.

Bataller said people in colder climates may drink more because alcohol tends to make them feel warmer. On the other hand, people in hot places are more likely to feel uncomfortable or light-headed when they drink. For many people, darkness can also exacerbate depression, which is associated with drinking, though alcohol is a depressant. Snowy climates might also increase isolation, which can make depression worse.

While people in frigid places like Russia are known for heavy drinking, Bataller said the connection between drinking and climate had not been studied systematically before. A team led by Meritxell Ventura-Cots, a postdoctoral researcher at the Pittsburgh Liver Research Centre, used large public data sets to compare average temperature and sunlight hours with average alcohol consumption per person, binge drinking, and the percentage of drinkers in a population. They also looked at cirrhosis caused by heavy drinking. The patterns they found held up even when the team controlled for religious restrictions on alcohol use. Florida and Hawaii were exceptions, possibly because so many partying tourists visit, Ventura-Cots said.

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She said the study found that in Europe, people in Ukraine drank 13.9 litres (472 ounces) of alcohol per capita per year while warmer Italians drank 6.7 litres (227 ounces) per capita. In the US, people in Montana drank 11.7 litres (398 ounces) of alcohol per capita per year while people in North Carolina drank just 7.8 litres (265 ounces).

The researchers did not have data on whether people drink more in winter than summer.

Generally, public health officials say women should average no more than one drink per day and men no more than two. Adding another drink a day increases the risk for cirrhosis, Bataller said. Obesity and smoking further add to the risk.