A number of factors that can contribute to high blood pressure, including alcohol consumption. The more you drink, the higher your chances are of developing high blood pressure.5 Learn more below about the importance of monitoring your blood pressure, how alcohol contributes to hypertension, and what to do to prevent or lower high blood pressure.

High blood pressure is a common health issue in the U.S. that, if not controlled, can increase the risk of serious medical conditions such as heart attacks, stroke, and heart failure. In the U.S., about 75 million adults have high blood pressure (or 1 in every 3 Americans) and it accounts for an estimated 54% of all strokes and 47% of all ischemic (reduced blood flow) heart disease events.1,2 Alcohol use can contribute to high blood pressure.

What Is High Blood Pressure?

Every time your heart beats, it pumps blood into the arteries, and blood pressure is the force of your blood pushing against the arterial walls.3 Every time your heart beats, blood pressure is at its highest and is measured as systolic pressure, which is the first number on a blood pressure reading.3 In between beats, blood pressure is relatively lower, which is known as diastolic pressure.3

Blood pressure measures include both a person’s systolic and diastolic numbers, with the former coming before the latter. Some important blood pressure thresholds to know include:3

  • Normal: Less than 120/80 mmHg.
  • Prehypertension (at risk): Between 120/80 mmHg and 139/89 mmHg.
  • Stage 1 Hypertension: Between 130-139 mmHg/80-89 mmHg.
  • Stage 2 Hypertension: Higher than 140/90 mmHg.
  • Hypertension Crisis (requiring hospitalization): higher than 180/120 mmHg.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is when a person’s blood pressure stays elevated longer than normal.4 When it stays high over time, it causes the heart to consistently pump harder.3 The increased cardiovascular stress may lead to serious health problems such as heart attack, stroke, kidney or heart failure.3

Genetic and family history factors can increase your risk of hypertension, but lifestyle and behavioral problems can also increase a person’s risk.5 Factors like an unhealthy diet, being overweight, physically inactive, having diabetes, smoking, and other forms of substance abuse, including too much alcohol, can cause high blood pressure.5 High blood pressure is often characterized as a silent killer because, given the lack of warning signs or symptoms, many people do not know they have it.4

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How Does Alcohol Affect High Blood Pressure?

Although anyone can develop high blood pressure, there are certain factors known to increase a person’s risk, such as consuming alcohol.3 When an individual has a single alcoholic drink, it leads to an acute rise in blood pressure; however, this typically resolve within 2 hours.6  To better prevent high blood pressure, the American Heart Association suggests limiting alcohol intake to no more than 2 drinks per day for men and no more than 1 drink per day for women.7

Studies have shown that continued alcohol use across several days creates a more sustained rise in blood pressure.6 Because of this, consistent binge drinking and long-term heavy drinking, can lead to chronic hypertension—itself a risk factor for coronary artery disease.1 According to the journal Atherosclerosis, scientists found that binge drinking increased the development of atherosclerosis, or the hardening and narrowing of arteries, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.8

Alcohol is high in calories and sugar. Alcohol-associated increases in body weight and obesity can further elevate the risk of high blood pressure on a long-term basis.3,9,11 Previous studies have also demonstrated that a higher BMI is associated with atherosclerosis which could compound the risks of stroke or heart attack.10

The American Heart Association recommends limiting alcohol intake in order to avoid developing hypertension.7 Women should have no more than 1 drink per day and no more than 2 drinks per day for men.7 Further guidelines for reducing high blood pressure risk include:12

  • For men younger than 65: no more than two drinks per day on average with two sober days per week
  • For men older than 65: no more than one drink per day on average with sober days
  • Women of any age: less than one drink per day and two sober days per week

Although quitting or reducing the amount of alcohol consumed can begin to lower high blood pressure,13 for those with an alcohol use disorder (AUD) or, otherwise, heavy drinkers with significant levels of physiological alcohol dependence, the process of abruptly quitting may actually increase blood pressure in the short-term (as part of acute alcohol withdrawal).12,14 A person may be suffering from AUD if they can no longer control their use of alcohol, compulsively abuse it despite negative ramifications, and/or experience emotional distress when they are not drinking.15

Alcohol withdrawal refers to symptoms that may occur when a long-term, heavy drinker or a person suddenly stops consuming alcohol.16 It is sometimes associated with an increased risk of high blood pressure, as well as other mild to severe or life-threatening symptoms. Because of this, a supervised medical detox may be necessary to help regulate blood pressure and lessen uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.16

Seeking Additional Help

Following successful completion of detox, if a person is or has struggled with alcoholism, it may be time to seek an inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation program to allow further work toward recovery and relapse prevention. As part of a comprehensive treatment plan for alcohol use disorders, group therapy, individual counseling, family counseling, support group meetings, wellness activities, and medication treatments may be included. To discuss treatment options, our admissions navigators are available 24/7 to speak with you today.

Sources:

[1]. UpToDate. (2019). Cardiovascular Risks of Hypertension.

[2]. Centers for Disease Control Prevention. (2016). High Blood Pressure Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).

[3]. MedlinePlus. (2017). How to Prevent High Blood Pressure.

[4]. Centers for Disease Control Prevention. (2019). High Blood Pressure.

[5]. Centers for Disease Control Prevention. (2019). High Blood Pressure Risk Factors.

[6]. Maheswaran, Ravi; Jaswinder, Singh Gill; Davies, Paul; David Gareth, Beevers. (2019). High Blood Pressure Due to Alcohol A Rapidly Reversible Effect. Hypertension, 17(6), 787-792.

[7]. American Heart Association. (2016). Limiting Alcohol to Manage High Blood Pressure.

[8]. University of Rochester Medical Center. (2011). Study Links Drinking Pattern to Alcohol’s Effect on Heart Health.

[9]. National Health Service. (2019). High Blood Pressure (Hypertension), Prevention.

[10]. Köchli, Sabrina; Endes, Katharina; Steiner, Ramona; et al. (2018). Obesity, High Blood Pressure, and Physical Activity Determine Vascular Phenotype in Young Children. Hypertension, 73(1), 153-161.

[11]. Re R. N. (2009). Obesity-related hypertension. The Ochsner journal, 9(3), 133–136.

[12]. Mayo Clinic. (2019). Alcohol: Does it affect blood pressure?

[13]. National Institute on Aging. (2018). High Blood Pressure. 

[14]. M. Ceccanti, G. F. Sasso, R. Nocente, G. Balducci, et al. (2006). Hypertension in Early Alcohol Withdrawal in Chronic Alcoholics. Alcohol and Alcoholism, 41(1), 5–10.

[15]. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2018). Alcohol Use Disorder.

[16]. MedlinePlus. (2019). Alcohol Withdrawal.