Image: © Jay Johnson

Here’s why we drink more alcohol when the weather’s shit

New research suggests you’re more likely to drink heavily if you live somewhere dark and cold.

What it means: A bunch of American researchers have figured out that countries with lower average temperatures and less hours of sunlight have higher levels of binge drinking (NHS definition? 2-3 pints/glasses of wine in one sesh) and liver disease.

One reason is that the beer jacket myth so beloved by uni students is apparently legit - alcohol is a “vasodilator”, a fancy word which means it causes our blood vessels to relax which brings more warm blood towards our skin. And the other reason is that people are more likely to experience depression when it’s gloomy out, and more likely to drink if they’re experiencing depression.

A lot of people think the research justifies things like banning alcohol adverts during the winter, or making alcohol more expensive during this time . They point out that liver disease is a nasty, deadly affliction, which causes the avoidable deaths of about 35 Brits every day. And alcohol misuse is predicted to cost the NHS almost £17 billion to treat over the next five years, or almost all of the extra £20 billion the government just promised to give it.

But plenty of Brits won’t appreciate the idea of the government meddling in their lifestyle choices, and definitely won’t be impressed at the suggestion they should be paying more for their Christmas sherry and New Year’s champers. And shrinking the alcohol industry may have some negative consequences - it employs hundreds of thousands of Brits and puts about £46 billion into the UK economy yearly (which is about 2.5% of GDP, or the total value of all the stuff the UK produces each year).

Plus, plenty of Brits seem unfazed by the problems associated with drinking: 81 percent of Brits drink alcohol, and just under half say they exceed the NHS recommendation of 14 units a week. And thousands of proud-to-be Brits tasked with coming up with a “brilliant list of [British] characteristics” put “getting drunk” as the 5th most British trait (talking about the weather and queuing were the top two).

Read our explainers on advertising regulation and consumer choice theory.

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