Alcohol And Altitude Sickness: 4 Tips To Deal With It

Alcohol And Altitude Sickness

Alcohol and altitude sickness don't go hand in hand. At least not in the way you think. While most people believe alcohol can help with altitude sickness, that isn't the case. In fact, it actually makes it worse.

It's something many don't consider until they're well into the experience, but altitude and liquor don't mix well. In fact, it actually makes it worse.

We'll discuss the effect of alcohol and altitude sickness, and 4 tips how to deal with it so you can avoid altitude sickness when drinking alcohol.

What is altitude sickness?

Altitude sickness is a temporary but often debilitating condition caused by low oxygen levels at high altitudes. It most commonly affects people who travel to higher altitudes too fast and is also known as acute mountain sickness (AMS).

It causes:

  • headache
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • fatigue
  • difficulty breathing
  • confusion 

These symptoms usually start 12 to 24 hours after reaching a high altitude. The risk of getting altitude sickness increases as you get closer to 8,000 feet above sea level. The higher you go, the more likely you’ll be affected. As a result, many people visiting mountainous destinations (or even just flying cross-country) will experience some form of altitude sickness.

More serious symptoms include shortness of breath upon exertion progressing to shortness of breath at rest (inability to walk more than a few steps without becoming breathless), cough (often with blood-tinged sputum), worsening headache and loss of coordination.

Alcohol and Altitude Sickness: 4 Tips To Deal With It

Being at altitude, or altitudes that are much higher than what you're used to means a lack of oxygen. This puts additional stress on your body because it needs additional oxygen to do the same things it typically does.

Add alcohol to that equation and you have a recipe for disaster! Altitude sickness is worsened in people who are dehydrated or have been drinking alcohol. 

There is a strong link between drinking alcohol and altitude sickness. Ironcially, hangovers from alcohol cause similar symptoms to the body than altitude sickness, including headache, nausea and fatigue. You don't want a hangover and altitude sickness at the same time!

The body needs time to adjust to higher altitudes and sometimes this does not happen if you ascend too quickly. This can result in a shortage of oxygen at higher altitudes which can lead to altitude sickness. Alcohol can make the symptoms of altitude sickness worse because it reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood and increases the risk of dehydration.

Alcohol and altitude don't mix, but that doesn't mean you have to ditch your favorite drink altogether.

Here's our 3 tips on how to deal with alcohol and altitude sickness:

1. Acclimate First

In the mountains, alcohol can exacerbate altitude sickness. If you’re headed to high altitudes, you might want to consider a few days of sobriety before you drink.

You see, at high elevation your body needs more time to adjust than it does at lower elevations. So if you’re going straight from the airport to the bar, you could be setting yourself up for an uncomfortable trip.

Acclimation requires ascending slowly, ascending in phases, or giving yourself time once you reached your high altitude destination. The more time you spend at a particular altitude, the easier it will be for your body to adjust to that altitude level. For example if your visiting Vail Colorado, you might want to stay in Denver for a night at 5280 feet elevation before proceeding to your destination at 8150 feet elevation.

This process of acclimatization can take a least 24-48 hours. We'd recommend waiting to drink alcohol once you've had the time to acclimate and know you're clear of feeling any altitude sickness symptoms. 

2. Know Your Limits

If you are in the mountains, drinking alcohol will most likely have greater effects on you and it is recommended that you increase the time between drinks and slow down when drinking while in the mountains.

How much you drink, how fast you drink and how often you drink can all contribute to your susceptibility for altitude illness. You also want to keep in mind that you may be on vacation and want to enjoy a few drinks with friends at the mountain resort. If this is something that you want to do, then be sure to know your limits and what your body can handle.

3. Hydrate Well

You'll also want to be aware of dehydration as well. Drinking alcohol makes it harder for your body to adapt to higher altitudes, since it causes dehydration.

Alcohol is a diuretic so it makes your body eliminate water faster, as this will increase your risk of dehydration at elevation which can lead to altitude sickness. It also can mess with your breathing, which can make altitude sickness worse.

The most important thing you can do is hydrate well during an altitude-filled trip. Drink plenty of water and take a hydration enhancing product like Zaca. Water alone doesn't always do the trick, your body will need as much nutritional support such as electrolytes and amino acids to help it hydrate with all the physiological stress.

4. Supplement Glutathione

You can also take supplements to help speed up recovery. Glutathione is an antioxidant that can help counter some of the negative effects of alcohol and altitude on your body.

Both conditions cause physiological stress on the body, and can actually decrease glutathione levels in the body such as with alcohol glutathione depletion.

And with elevation, one study shows glutathione can drop up to 45% due to high altitude.¹

Supplements to prevent altitude sickness are a great option to enhance your high altitude journey. Zaca chewables are powered with plenty of glutathione for you body.

Final Thoughts

If you're going to mix alcohol and altitude, be smart as hangovers and altitude sickness can be a disastrous result!  Follow our tips -- acclimate first, know your limits, and hydrate well so you can feel great during your high altitude trip.

Want to supplement to help you have drinks on your high altitude trip? Try Zaca's hydration + liver aid chewables today.

1. Effect of high altitude (7,620 m) exposure on glutathione