Who Knews?

Jamie McFarlin

The anecdote of Charles Joughin, a baker on the Titanic who supposedly survived the frigidly cold water because of the alcohol in his system, was shared with me recently.
Essentially, the idea was that the alcohol acted somewhat like antifreeze and kept his body warmer even in the cold. The validity of the tale, however, is somewhat disappointing. While the cook did survive, alcohol really didn’t have very much to do with it beyond keeping the man calm.
When it is cold – and it is definitely cold right now – it seems logical to think drinking is something that will help in coping with the cold as one frolics around campus. It gives a flushed, warm feeling and perhaps numbs the cold sensation. Are you actually warmer, though?
The warm skin and flushed-face feeling associated with alcohol is misleading. It is generated by dilating blood vessels, which causes us to lose heat but feel warmer. Consequently, core heat loss is occurring faster, dropping body temperature and making a person even more susceptible to hypothermia. The risk of hypothermia is exacerbated as the warm feeling masks the lowered body temperature and intoxication makes one far less alert and responsive. The chance of slipping on ice or passing out somewhere in the cold is more likely.
It is important to me to express that I am neither condoning nor condemning drinking. There are positive sides to alcohol that include and extend beyond social interaction. As far as drinking to stay warm though – you’d be better off with hot chocolate.