People living in colder climates with less sunlight are more likely to drink heavily, according to new research
A US study, which examined data from 193 countries, has found a link between the weather, binge drinking and liver disease. The data provides evidence for something that many have thought for a long time - that climate (including average temperature and hours of sunlight) contributes to a higher incidence of alcohol consumption.
“It’s something that everyone has assumed for decades,” said lead author Ramon Bataller, associate director of the Pittsburgh Liver Research Centre. “Why do people in Russia drink so much? Why in Wisconsin? Everybody assumes that’s because it’s cold.
“But we could not find a single paper linking climate to alcoholic intake or alcoholic cirrhosis. This is the first study that systematically demonstrates that worldwide and in America, in colder areas and areas with less sun, you have more drinking and more alcoholic cirrhosis.”
It’s thought that this is as a result of alcohol’s ability to relax the blood vessels and increase the flow of warm blood to the skin. However, drinking is also linked to depression, which tends to be more prevalent when sunlight is scarce.
The study, published online in Hepatology, examined data from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Meteorological Organisation. The findings suggested that as average temperature and hours of sunlight decreased, the total intake of alcohol per person, the percentage of the population that drinks alcohol, as well as the incidence of binge drinking all increased. There is a clear correlation between climate and alcohol consumption.
Dr Peter McCann, medical adviser to Castle Craig Hospital, a residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation clinic in the Scottish Borders, contributed to the report.
He said: “We now have new evidence that the weather, and in particular the temperature and amount of sunlight that we are exposed to, has a strong influence on how much alcohol we consume.
“Furthermore this weather-related alcohol consumption is directly linked to our chances of developing the most dangerous form of liver disease - cirrhosis - which can ultimately end in liver failure and death.”
He added: “Stricter laws on alcohol pricing are surely justified when we consider the devastating combined effect of low sunlight and cheaper alcohol on consumption.”
In the UK alone, there were 5,507 deaths attributable to alcohol and 337,000 hospital admissions due to alcohol-related diseases or injuries in the year 2016-17. There were also 240 road deaths in Britain where one or both drivers were over the drink drive limit. This accounts for 13% of all road deaths, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Earlier this year, legislation on minimum pricing for alcohol came into force in Scotland in a bid to tackle problem drinking. Scientists say that the findings of this new research justifies stricter laws on alcohol pricing and advertising during the winter months.
Evidence of the climate link comes as the WHO presents new data on alcohol consumption in Europe at a summit in Edinburgh today.
It says levels remain high and that almost half of the adult male population are at risk of both short and long-term health and social problems due to harmful drinking patterns.
If you’re worried about your alcohol consumption, or that of a loved one, support is available.
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