At the national convention last week in the mile-high city of Denver, the New York State Democratic Party warned delegates about the potential effects of drinking alcohol there. “Remember that drinks may go to your head faster than you’re used to in New York,” it said.
It’s an oft-repeated saying, based on the notion that lower oxygen levels at high altitudes impair the ability to metabolize alcohol, leading to quicker absorption and enhanced intoxication. But research suggests otherwise.
In a series of studies for the Federal Aviation Administration, scientists simulated the effects of altitude, performing blood alcohol tests on groups of subjects who drank under ground-level and high-altitude conditions. They found no difference.
In other studies, scientists examined people at altitudes of 12,000 feet and higher and found that such heights, without alcohol, could induce a sort of fatigue that hampers mental and physical abilities. Consuming four drinks at sea level worsened performance, much more so than altitude alone. But combining high altitude and alcohol had only a slightly greater effect on cognitive performance.