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Alcohol and Health

Why Does Alcohol Make You Hot?

Published:
March 13, 2024
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19 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
March 13, 2024
·
19 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
March 13, 2024
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19 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
March 13, 2024
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19 min read
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Reframe Content Team
March 13, 2024
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19 min read

You’re out with friends on a cold winter night enjoying several cocktails at a local restaurant. You decide to move to a new bar and go to step outside when, all of a sudden, it hits you: you’re hot! You ditch the jacket and allow the cold, crisp air to wash over you. So, what’s going on? Does alcohol make you warmer, or is it just an illusion? 

In this post, we’ll explore the science behind why alcohol makes us feel hot, how it affects our body temperature, and what we can do about it. Let’s get started!

Why Do I Get Hot When I Drink Alcohol?

A person feeling hot using paper fan while lying on a couch

To understand why we get hot when drinking alcohol, we have to understand
how alcohol affects our blood vessels. Alcohol acts as a vasodilator, meaning that it causes our blood vessels to dilate, or expand. As a result, blood flows more easily through our vessels, leading to increased blood flow throughout our body, including to our skin’s surface. This is largely why we feel warm after we start drinking — hence the “beer blanket” phenomenon. It’s also what causes us to look flushed on our cheeks and neck.

While this process makes our skin feel warmer, the widening of blood vessels is actually our body’s way of cooling itself down after drinking alcohol. Because of this, our skin might feel warm because our body is simply trying to push heat out. 

It’s worth noting that while this warm sensation is a common side effect of alcohol, it can vary in intensity from person to person based on various factors, such as the amount of alcohol consumed and our tolerance level. 

Does Drinking Alcohol Increase Body Temperature?

Because we feel a warm sensation from alcohol, many people assume that alcohol warms the body and increases our body temperature. However, studies show that alcohol can actually lower our core body temperature and increase our risk of hypothermia. 

Here’s how it works: the normal process that makes us feel cold occurs when blood flows away from the skin and into our organs, which increases our core body temperature. However, alcohol reverses this process, increasing the flow of blood to the skin and setting off a steep drop in body temperature. 

Alcohol also reverses other reflexes that control body temperature. For instance, one study found that part of why alcohol exacerbates a drop in core body temperature is because it reduces the ability to shiver, which is the body’s way of creating warmth. 

Another study noted that after a single drink, the body tries to counteract the brief sensation of warmth caused by increased blood flow to the skin by sweating, which further decreases body temperature. 

Alcohol’s effect on our body temperature is particularly dangerous because it tricks us into feeling warmer than we actually are. As such, we might feel the need to step outside to cool off, even if the external temperature hasn’t changed significantly. This can put us at a greater risk of hypothermia-related injuries and deaths.

The Relationship Between Alcohol and Hot Flashes

So, what’s the relationship between alcohol and hot flashes? It’s not uncommon for people to experience hot flashes following a night of drinking. In fact, hot flashes typically occur during a hangover, as our body temperature starts to rise from the low body temperature we had when we were intoxicated. That’s why we might experience night sweats

In general, hot flashes and sweating are signs that our hangover has triggered our sympathetic nervous system, otherwise known as our fight-or-flight response. Symptoms typically include trembling or shaking, sweating, feeling hot, a rapid heartbeat, and high blood pressure.

Things are further complicated by the fact that sweating during a hangover can cause dehydration. Since we’re already dehydrated from alcohol, this is like a double whammy, causing us to experience even greater thirst, weakness, dry mouth, dizziness, or lightheadedness. 

In addition to dehydration, alcohol use can also lead to changes in our body's hormones and neurotransmitters, which can impact our sleep patterns and contribute to hot flashes and sweating at night after drinking. For example, alcohol can increase the production of the stress hormone cortisol, which can disrupt our sleep and lead to night sweats. It can also decrease the production of the hormone vasopressin, which regulates our body's fluid balance, leading to dehydration and increased thirst.

Sweating and hot flashes can last up to 24 hours after our last drink, but the longevity and severity depends on a variety of factors, such as how much alcohol we consumed, how hydrated we were, our age, and overall health. 

Alcohol Withdrawal and Hot Flashes

Hot flashes can also occur during alcohol withdrawal, which is what people with alcohol use disorder experience when they suddenly stop drinking or go too long without having a drink. 

Similar to hangover symptoms, hot flashes and sweating occur because alcohol withdrawal triggers our body’s fight-or-flight response. Typically, alcohol depresses our central nervous system, making our brain highly sensitive to glutamate — a neurotransmitter that excites our brain. However, without alcohol in our system, our brain becomes easily overexcited, leading to increased blood pressure and heat. Hence the hot flashes.

Furthermore, alcohol use disorder and alcohol withdrawal can cause tachycardia — a condition in which the heart beats irregularly fast — which has the potential to result in hot flashes and excessive sweating.

It’s also worth noting that, apart from alcohol withdrawal, hot flashes may occur as a result of alcohol intolerance — which is when our body has an adverse reaction to alcohol. While facial flushing, nausea, headaches, a stuffy nose, and itchiness are the most common symptoms, low blood pressure, high heart rate, diarrhea, hot flashes, and shortness of breath are typical as well.

Alcohol and Colds: Does Whiskey Help a Cold? 

All this talk of temperature has us asking another question: does whiskey help a cold? Maybe you’ve heard that drinking a “hot toddy” — a mixture of whiskey with hot water, honey, and lemon — can help a cold. But, is this true? 

The recommendation to drink a hot toddy for a cold is based on several different factors. For instance, since alcohol can help us fall asleep faster, whiskey can have a sedative effect that may help us fall asleep if we’re having trouble due to cold-related symptoms like a cough or congestion. Similarly, like other alcoholic beverages, whiskey can have a soothing effect on our throat and help numb any discomfort or irritation. 

However, while whiskey may be able to provide some temporary relief from specific cold symptoms, it’s generally not wise to consume alcohol while sick. This is because alcohol actually suppresses our immune system and can make it harder for our body to heal. Alcohol also dehydrates us — and when we’re sick, it’s vital to stay hydrated to help our body recover. Furthermore, while alcohol may help us fall asleep faster, it actually reduces our overall quality of sleep and disrupts our REM cycle, which is vital for physical restoration. 

For all these reasons and more, we’re better off treating a cold by getting rest, taking medications, and hydrating with water or electrolytes. But, of course, if we’re not getting better, we should consult a medical professional rather than try to self-diagnose or self-medicate. 

7 Tips for Reducing Hot Flashes From Alcohol

Hot To Get Rid of Hot Flashes After Drinking Alcohol

It goes without saying, but the best way to avoid hot flashes from alcohol is to limit our consumption of alcohol or not drink at all. If we do choose to drink, it’s always important to drink in moderation. Practicing mindful drinking can help with this. 

With that in mind, here are 7 tips for reducing hot flashes from alcohol:

  1. Drink plenty of water. As we’ve learned, alcohol dehydrates us and can exacerbate feelings of warmth. When drinking alcohol, try to drink a full glass of water between each drink. Also be sure to drink water before going to bed, and then keep drinking water the following day.
  2. Choose your drinks wisely. The type of alcohol we choose can influence how warm we feel. For instance, beer and wine typically contain less alcohol by volume than other spirits or liquor, which means they’re less likely to cause intense vasodilation. Try opting for beverages with lower alcohol content to avoid feeling overly flushed.
  3. Stay cool. Try finding a cool environment to help regulate your body temperature. For instance, take a cool shower, use a fan, or adjust the thermostat to provide some relief. If you’re outdoors, try avoiding direct sunlight and opt for the shade.
  4. Avoid caffeine. Caffeine can increase our heart rate and may lead to sweating or hot flashes. It’s particularly dangerous when combined with alcohol, as it can mask its effects and cause us to over indulge.
  5. Practice deep breathing exercises. Taking slow, deep breaths can help calm our body and lower our heart rate. Try practicing mindfulness and drawing attention to your breath, inhaling through your nose and exhaling through your mouth slowly. This is good for us even if we’re not hot, as it helps reduce stress and anxiety.
  6. Wear breathable clothing. Avoid tight-fitting clothing or articles of clothing that trap in moisture. Instead, opt for breathable, loose-fitting clothing that allows for better air circulation and helps heat escape. Cotton is always a good choice!
  7. Get some rest. Not getting adequate sleep can make us more susceptible to hot flashes, not to mention a feeling of overall crankiness and discomfort. Be sure to get a good night’s sleep after a night of drinking to help your body recover. If you can, try squeezing in a short nap during the day to help make up for disruptions in your REM cycle caused by alcohol. 

Keep in mind that cutting back on alcohol isn’t good just for preventing excessive heat or sweating, but also for enhancing our overall mental and physical health as well. 

The Bottom Line

Drinking alcohol can spread a warm sensation through our body due to vasodilation — the widening of blood vessels. But just because we feel warm doesn’t mean our core temperature is rising. In fact, it’s just the opposite: alcohol lowers our core temperature and impairs our ability to shiver. As such, it can put us at risk of hypothermia since we think we’re warmer than we actually are. However, as our body temperature starts to rise after a night of drinking, it can cause us to sweat or have hot flashes. 

While limiting our consumption of alcohol or quitting alcohol entirely is the best thing we can do for our body, if we do choose to drink, it’s important to stay hydrated, drink in moderation, and choose drinks that are lower in alcohol content.

If you want to cut back on drinking, but don’t know where or how to start, consider trying Reframe. We’re a science-backed app that has helped millions of people reduce their alcohol consumption and enhance their physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

Summary FAQs

1. Why does alcohol make you hot?

Alcohol acts as a vasodilator, widening blood vessels and increasing blood flow to the skin's surface, leading to a sensation of warmth.

2. Does drinking alcohol increase your body temperature?

No, alcohol can lower core body temperature by reversing the normal process that keeps us warm. It increases blood flow to the skin and impairs the body's ability to shiver, making us feel warmer while reducing our actual core temperature.

3. Does alcohol cause hot flashes? 

Alcohol can trigger hot flashes, especially during a hangover when the body's temperature starts to rise. Sweating and hot flashes are signs of the body's fight-or-flight response.

4. Can alcohol withdrawal cause hot flashes?

Yes, alcohol withdrawal can lead to hot flashes because it triggers the body's fight-or-flight response, raising blood pressure and body heat.

5. Does whiskey help a cold?

Whiskey may provide temporary relief from specific cold symptoms, but it's generally not advisable to consume alcohol when sick. Alcohol can suppress the immune system and dehydrate the body, which is counterproductive when trying to recover from a cold.

6. How can you get rid of hot flashes after drinking alcohol?

To reduce hot flashes, make sure to drink plenty of water, choose lower-alcohol beverages, stay in a cool environment, avoid caffeine, practice deep breathing, wear breathable clothing, and prioritize getting enough rest. Limiting alcohol consumption and drinking in moderation are also recommended for overall health.

Say Goodbye to Alcohol Hot Flashes With Reframe

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app today!

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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