Alcohol is a very intoxicating beverage that can lead to serious side effects, both in the short-term and long-term. While it is legal for people who are 21 and older to consume alcoholic beverages in the United States, alcohol is also one of the most widely abused intoxicating substances.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports that there are at least 16 million people in the US who meet the criteria for alcohol use disorder (AUD), or alcoholism; about 15.1 million of these individuals are adults, ages 18 and older, and about 623,000 are adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 88,000 people die every year due to some issue related to alcohol, such as car crashes, alcohol poisoning, and liver failure.
Skin and Temperature Issues Related to Alcohol Use
Among the many side effects associated with drinking too much, nausea, stumbling, and slurred speech are some of the most known. Alcohol can also change other reactions in the body, including blood pressure, core body temperature, and skin. Drinking alcohol can make a person feel warmer while actually increasing their risk of suffering from cold. Essentially, alcohol can make a person feel numb to other problems in the environment, including temperature, and it can cause flushing or blushing in the face or other areas of the skin. Some of these temperature-related risks are more dangerous than others.
- The alcohol flush reaction:For many people, a glass of wine or pint of beer can cause flushing in the face, and the more the person drinks, the redder their skin becomes and the puffier their eyes get. This type of skin flushing, which occurs mostly in the face but can appear all over the body, is due to an inherited lack of a liver enzyme, aldehyde dehydrogenase. This enzyme helps the liver break down alcohol into different molecules that can be metabolized out of the body; however, without enough of this enzyme, toxins from digesting alcohol build up in the body and can cause flushing in the skin. Although a blush or flush in the face from a few servings of alcohol is not inherently dangerous, the lack of aldehyde dehydrogenase is a sign of other potential conditions. The genes associated with less of this enzyme have also been associated with an increased risk of esophageal cancer and chronic high blood pressure. While drinking too much is a risk factor for both of these conditions anyway, the reduced liver enzyme means that people who flush have a higher sensitivity to the toxic effects of alcohol; genetically, this means they are more at risk for these long-term health problems.
- Sweating from drinking too much: One of the more common side effects from drinking too much is sweating. Typically, the body sweats to lower its temperature through evaporation. Exercise, warm days, and fevers are all reasons that a person might sweat; other reasons include intoxication from drugs or alcohol.The liver can safely metabolize about one serving of alcohol per hour; consuming more than one serving increases the blood alcohol content (BAC) faster, and the person will begin to appear or feel intoxicated. Toxins from the liver’s slower metabolizing of alcohol will build up in the body, causing several changes to the brain and how organs function. Alcohol’s toxins enlarge blood vessels throughout the body. This does, in part, explain blushing or flushing in the skin when a person becomes drunk; however, dilation of these vessels is also common when a person sweats due to body temperature changes. The body may begin to sweat in response to changes in the blood vessels. The body may also begin to feel warmer, but this is misleading; alcohol typically lowers the core body temperature, and sweating can lower it even further.
- Changes to body temperature: The body’s temperature is produced in deep organs, with the brain, heart, and liver being the primary sources of body heat. When a person moves their skeletal muscles, such as during exercise, this process also produces a lot of heat. The process of digestion, especially through the liver, changes body temperature; when the liver metabolizes a lot of alcohol, this can lead to feeling warm, as the liver gives off a lot of heat. However, the rest of the body may become colder while the liver works overtime to metabolize alcohol.The shifts in blood supply throughout the body – seen in flushing and felt in temperature changes – actually cause the body to release more heat. However, because the person feels warmer, they do not notice that their core body temperature is going down, as blood vessels expand and sweat causes heat to leave the body. On warmer days, this may cause a person to feel nauseated or dizzy; however, on cold evenings, especially during the winter, drinking too much can become dangerous. People may forget about their coat or take it off, a phenomenon called the beer jacket or alcohol cloak because they have had too much to drink and they feel too warm for their outer wear. In very cold places, though, a person who does not realize that it is extremely cold, and that their body’s core temperature is decreasing, is at risk of suffering problems like hypothermia.
- Hot flashes: When the effects of alcohol wear off, a person may feel hot flashes as part of the hangover experience. Additionally, people who struggle with heavy drinking, binge drinking, or AUD may also experience hot flashes. This is caused by the shifting balance of hormones in the body. Hot flashes are a known symptom of menopause – a change in hormonal balances that occurs in older women – but alcohol can also harm the endocrine system, which balances hormones throughout the body.
Blushing from a second glass of wine is not harmful, but continuing to drink could lead to several problems in the body, including struggles to maintain core body temperature, sweating, and increased risk of long-term health problems, from heart disease to cancer.