Effects of alcohol on autonomic responses and thermal sensation during cold exposure in humans

Alcohol. 2008 May;42(3):207-12. doi: 10.1016/j.alcohol.2008.01.006.


We investigated the effects of alcohol on thermoregulatory responses and thermal sensations during cold exposure in humans. Eight healthy men (mean age 22.3+/-0.7 year) participated in this study. Experiments were conducted twice for each subject at a room temperature of 18 degrees C. After a 30-min resting period, the subject drank either 15% alcohol at a dose of 0.36 g/kg body weight (alcohol session) or an equal volume of distilled water (control session), and remained in a sitting position for another 60 min. Mean skin temperature continued to decrease and was similar in control and alcohol sessions. Metabolic rate was lower in the alcohol session, but the difference did not affect core temperature, which decreased in a similar manner in both alcohol and control sessions (from 36.9+/-0.1 degrees C to 36.6+/-0.1 degrees C). Whole body sensations of cold and thermal discomfort became successively stronger in the control session, whereas these sensations were both greatly diminished after drinking alcohol. In a previous study we performed in the heat, using a similar protocol, alcohol produced a definite, coordinated effect on all autonomic and sentient heat loss effectors. In the current study in the cold, as compared to responses in the heat, alcohol intake was followed by lesser alterations in autonomic effector responses, but increased changes in sensations of temperature and thermal discomfort. Overall, our results indicate that although alcohol influences thermoregulation in the cold as well as in the heat, detailed aspects of the influence are quite different.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Autonomic Nervous System / drug effects*
  • Body Temperature Regulation / drug effects
  • Central Nervous System Depressants / pharmacology*
  • Cold Temperature*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Ethanol / pharmacology*
  • Heart Rate / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Metabolism / drug effects
  • Skin Temperature / drug effects
  • Telemetry
  • Thermosensing / drug effects*


  • Central Nervous System Depressants
  • Ethanol