The Science Behind the Beer Coat

Guzzling beer to keep warm may seem like a good idea, but it’s not.

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There are two common ways to stay warm in winter: Bundle up until you feel like you’re wearing three sleeping bags, or just drink booze until you get your beer coat, an invisible force that miraculously keep you warm when you’re hammered. But does alcohol actually increase your body temperature, or is this just your drunk brain playing tricks on you again? Prepare to be disappointed…

“The feeling that your body gets warmer when you drink is an illusion,” emphasizes Dr. 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.”

Furthermore, booze 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, this can quickly turn dangerous: “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.