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Alcohol especially risky in extreme cold

Posted at 9:45 AM, Dec 31, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-31 09:56:20-05

FORT WRIGHT, Ky. -- Don't plan on letting the brutal cold ruin your New Year's Eve plans? If you're celebrating with alcohol, experts say a hangover isn't the only reason you shouldn't drink to excess this year.

Sunday will be the coldest New Year's Eve in Cincinnati in 50 years, as arctic air pushes temperatures into the single digits and wind chills falling below zero by midnight.

FORECAST: Arctic cold for the week ahead

According to Dr. Monica Sullivan, there are a few reasons alcohol is riskier in this extreme cold.

For one, the false sense of warmth you feel after drinking can put you at greater risk for hypothermia.

"Alcohol itself is what we call a potent vasodilator, so the blood vessels underneath the skin will lose heat very easily... which means you can get very cold, very fast -- and not even feel cold," Sullivan said.

Symptoms of hypothermia include shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech and drowsiness. Sullivan and other experts say you shouldn't drink alone, always with friends and family -- so you can look out for each other.

Another reason you shouldn't drink to excess: Alcohol impairs your decision-making abilities, and it's easier to become disoriented. That's a serious hazard in such bitter cold. 

"You may get separated from the group. You may find yourself walking down the street, and you don’t know where you are," Sullivan said.

Experts see an increase in alcohol-related visits to the emergency room this time of year. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strongly advises against having one too many drinks in these extremely frigid conditions. 

If you do drink, Sullivan says you should take breaks in between your alcoholic beverages, drink plenty of water and layer up your clothing.