High blood pressure can affect your health, and alcohol use is linked to increased blood pressure and other heart-related concerns. Mayo Clinic states that blood pressure has been found to temporarily increase when drinking three or more drinks in one sitting, and repeated drinking may lead to long-term elevations in blood pressure. One drink is considered to be 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor.
In some cases, light or moderate alcohol use can cause a very slight decrease in blood pressure. However, this change is very slight and is quickly reversed when more alcohol is consumed.
Article at a Glance
- Alcohol affects the body in many ways that can increase blood pressure.
- High blood pressure (hypertension) is a silent killer that can lead to heart attack, stroke and other deadly diseases.
- Even people with low blood pressure can develop hypertension from alcohol use.
- Stopping alcohol use is an important part of controlling blood pressure.
Table of Contents
The Relationship Between Alcohol and Blood Pressure
At very low levels of use, alcohol does not increase blood pressure — in fact, it may lower it slightly. As more alcohol is used (typically three drinks or more in one sitting), blood pressure becomes higher. Many factors work together to cause this, and the long-term effects alcohol has on blood pressure can be deadly.
What Is Blood Pressure?
Blood pressure is exactly what it sounds like: the pressure of your blood. Blood pressure is given in two numbers (for example, 120/80). This is because blood flows at two different pressures: A higher pressure occurs when the heart is contracting and forcing blood through the arteries, and a lower pressure occurs when the heart is relaxed. Both of these pressures are important, but the higher pressure tends to be the one that causes the most damage when it is elevated.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is very harmful because it causes microscopic damage to the lining of arteries. This causes scarring and hardening of the arteries (arteriosclerosis) and can eventually lead to blockages. These blockages can block blood flow to the heart (heart attack), to the brain (stroke) or to other essential organs. Heart attacks are the most common complication caused by hypertension. Hypertension can be especially deadly because people often don’t realize they have it, as it doesn’t cause any symptoms until a complication like a heart attack or stroke occurs. Because of this, hypertension has been called “the silent killer.”
Low blood pressure, or hypotension, is dangerous if blood pressure gets too low; however, this usually only occurs due to disease or a large amount of blood loss. Unlike high blood pressure, low blood pressure does cause symptoms, such as dizziness and pale skin. Additionally, low blood pressure is usually not a long-term health problem like high blood pressure.
How Alcohol Affects Blood Pressure
There are many ways alcohol is known to indirectly affect blood pressure. These include:
- Nervous system changes: Medical scientists do not fully understand how alcohol’s effect on the nervous system influences blood pressure. However, alcohol is known to affect the nervous system, and the nervous system plays a role in controlling blood pressure.
- Changes in pressure receptors: Receptors in the body called baroreceptors sense blood pressure levels and make any needed adjustments. Alcohol affects these receptors, making blood pressure higher.
- Increased cortisol: Cortisol is a stress hormone that raises blood pressure. Alcohol increases the amount of cortisol, increasing blood pressure.
- Increased calcium levels: Alcohol increases the amount of calcium in the muscles that line arteries. This causes arteries to become more constricted, elevating blood pressure.
- Increase in vasoconstrictor hormones: There are a number of hormones that cause arteries to constrict. Scientists have found that alcohol interacts with these hormones to increase blood pressure by constricting arteries and retaining fluid filtered in the kidneys.
- Weight effects: Being overweight is known to increase blood pressure. The empty calories in alcohol lead to weight gain over the long term, further increasing blood pressure.
There is no single factor that makes blood pressure increase from alcohol use. Rather, it is a combination of factors that work together to create high blood pressure.
Alcohol Consumption for Someone With High Blood Pressure
If someone has high blood pressure, they should avoid drinking alcohol as much as possible. Most doctors recommend that people with high blood pressure should exercise and eat a healthy diet. Part of this healthy diet is avoiding alcohol use.
While alcohol does contribute to high blood pressure, it may be safe to use small amounts of alcohol. The American Heart Association (AHA) says the maximum daily amount of alcohol consumption for people with hypertension is two drinks for men and one drink for women. Ultimately, the less you drink, the better it will be for your hypertension. The AHA recommendations may not work best for everyone, however, so be sure to speak with a doctor about your specific situation.
Alcohol Consumption for Someone With Low Blood Pressure
Someone with low blood pressure should still try to limit their alcohol use and should never use alcohol as a way of treating low blood pressure. Some people may have blood pressure that is naturally lower than normal, but these individuals can still develop high blood pressure from alcohol use.
Ideally, people with low blood pressure who use alcohol should consult a doctor to learn what is best for their specific situation. Additionally, they should follow the recommendation of no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women.
Reversing the Effects of Alcohol on Blood Pressure
The effects of alcohol build up over time, so stopping alcohol use is the best way to reduce its effects on blood pressure.
There are other steps you should also consider taking if you have high blood pressure and are using alcohol. Talking with your doctor is essential, as they will be able to tell how high your blood pressure is, what is contributing to it and what you can do to help it. Diet changes and exercise are usually an essential part of controlling blood pressure, and medications may help as well. There are also medications that can help offset some of the effects of alcohol.
Stopping alcohol use can be difficult, but help is available at The Recovery Village. Our caring addiction specialists have helped many people stop using substances like alcohol and begin leading a healthier, more fulfilling life. Reach out to one of our representatives to learn more about our treatment programs, and take the first step toward lifelong recovery and health today.
Sheps, Sheldon. “Alcohol: Does it affect blood pressure?” Mayo Clinic, January 9, 2020. Accessed from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/expert-answers/blood-pressure/faq-20058254 on November 6, 2020.
American Heart Association. “Why High Blood Pressure is a ‘Silent Killer.’” 2020. Accessed November 6, 2020.
Husain, Kazim; Ansari, Rais; Ferder, Leon. “Alcohol-induced hypertension: Mechanism and prevention.” World of Journal Cardiology, May 26, 2014. Accessed November 6, 2020.
American Heart Association. “Limiting Alcohol to Manage High Blood Pressure.” 2020. Accessed November 6, 2020.
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