drinking outside cold

Does alcohol keep you warm? The short answer is no. It may feel like warmed blood is rushing to your skin, but the drug actually interferes with your body’s ability to regulate temperature. Ultimately, it only makes you colder. Booze affects the body — especially the blood — in many other ways.

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Alcohol and Blood Cells

Your blood consists of a variety of components. Among these, red blood cells (RBC) are the workhorses. They deliver oxygen and other nutrients to every cell and carry away its waste products. Blood cells are manufactured in your bone marrow. Long-term drinking causes the marrow to produce fewer cells. It also alters RBC’s structure, reducing their effectiveness. Less efficient and fewer RBCs diminishes their ability to feed your cells adequately.

For example, the drug impedes RBCs absorption of iron. Iron carries needed oxygen throughout your body, and inadequate amounts of iron leads to anemia. Anemia makes you feel weak, tired, and more prone to falls and other accidents

Excessive drinking has the same effect on the number and quality of white blood cells, which are responsible for warding off infections. A weakened immune system explains why alcoholics are more prone to sickness.

Increased Risk for Stroke

Blood also contains clotting agents called platelets. If your blood has too many platelets, it thickens and forms dangerous clots. A heart attack occurs when a blood clot lodges in one of its vessels. When one lodges in your brain, it causes an occlusive stroke.

Not enough platelets and you have “thin blood.” Combined with alcohol’s role in thinning the walls of blood vessels, blood that does not clot properly puts you at risk for a hematological stroke. This occurs when a weakened vessel ruptures, robbing the blood from a portion of the brain.

Alcohol, Blood and Health

The effects of alcohol extend beyond the blood itself and impact related body functions. Your body is a complex system, and if something goes wrong with one part, it likely influences others. Heavy or long-term consumption of spirits in any form—wine, beer or liquor—has a profound effect on this system. For example,

  • Your liver filters the blood. Over time, alcohol destroys the liver in a disease process called cirrhosis.
  • Excessive drinking raises blood pressure. High blood pressure damages your heart, kidneys and other organs.
  • Alcohol lowers blood sugar. A sudden decrease in blood sugar puts you at risk for fainting and shock.
  • Booze alters the effect of medications used to treat these and other conditions. Some medication and alcohol combinations become recipes for a life-threatening medical emergency.

Alcohol in excess or consumed over a long period is very destructive to your body — including your blood. Healthy blood is essential. If you believe you have a drinking problem, find help. The best place to begin is a visit to your primary healthcare provider. The next time you get cold, reach for a blanket instead of a drink.

About Heart and Vascular Institute

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute ranks among the best in the United States for complete cardiovascular care. U.S. News & World Report lists UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the top hospitals nationally for cardiology and heart surgery. We treat all manners of heart and vein conditions, from the common to the most complex. We are creating new medical devices and cutting-edge treatments that may not be available at other hospitals. We also offer screenings, free clinics, and education events in the community.