Sorting fact from fiction about the effects of combining alcohol and high elevation can significantly benefit travelers who want to most fully enjoy their destinations and stay healthy and feeling their best throughout their journeys. Here is some information to help you ideally manage your alcohol consumption while traveling by plane at high altitudes and optimize your stay at high-elevation destinations.
Can drinking at high altitude increase drunkenness?
There is a widely held notion that reduced oxygen intake at high altitudes (where oxygen levels are lower), impact the body's ability to normally metabolize alcohol, causing alcohol absorption to be quicker. Subscribers to this reasoning believe that intoxication is, therefore, escalated when drinking at high mountain elevations or flying at high altitudes in an airplane.
However, research does not support this assumption. Federal Aviation Administration scientists have conducted a series of tests simulating altitude's effects during alcohol consumption. They have tested blood alcohol in groups of test subjects when drinking alcohol under conditions below ground-level and at high-altitude. The FAA test results indicated no differences.
Other research testing people drinking at high altitudes did indicate that at extreme heights, even without drinking alcohol, a form of fatigue can occur that hinders mental and physical functioning. The study found that consuming four drinks of alcohol at sea level much more significantly impaired performance than did altitude alone. And, the study concluded that a combination of alcohol consumption and high altitude had no more than a negligible effect on cognitive functioning.
Can drinking increase altitude sickness?
Alcohol and caffeine do negatively impact the body's capacity to compensate for high-altitude. To limit your risk of altitude sickness, start avoiding alcohol and caffeine drinks at least one full day prior to arriving at a high-altitude location or flying on a plane.
Can alcohol contribute to problems from dehydration?
Dehydration reduces the body’s ability to adapt (acclimatize) to high-altitude environments. During long journeys by air, bus, or car, many travelers tend to consume excessive amounts of alcohol and/or caffeine. This can cause a general condition of low blood volume, which can impact your health. Symptoms can include fatigue, dizziness, and confusion. And, in extreme cases, very serious health problems or death can result.
High altitude can impact some of the body's abilities, but research indicates that it does not actually increase the potency of alcohol. Before you travel by air or embark on a trip to higher elevations, where altitude sickness is a risk, start preparing by drinking two to three liters of water daily. Drink non-alcoholic and non-caffeinated fluids as regularly as possible (depending upon your mode of transportation), to help reduce your risk of arriving at a high-elevation destination in a dehydrated condition. And, always keep a one-liter bottle of water with you while traveling.
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