Does Alcohol Raise Blood Pressure?

A man clutching his chest

Rob’s doctor broke the news to him yesterday: he has high blood pressure. Rob wasn’t surprised. It runs in his family, and his health habits aren’t spectacular. What did surprise Rob was one of his doctor’s recommendations: cut alcohol out of his diet. He could only wonder- does alcohol really raise blood pressure?

Rob isn’t a heavy drinker, so he has doubts that the amount of alcohol he consumes could make a difference in his heart health. But it turns out…

Low Levels of Alcohol Consumption Can Increase Blood Pressure

In 2023, researchers analyzed multiple studies involving adults in the U.S., Korea, and Japan. They found a clear association between increased blood pressure and the amount of alcohol consumed each day. Their findings confirm that alcohol contributes to increases in blood pressure.1

Even adults who drank just one alcoholic beverage per day “showed a link to higher blood pressure when compared to non-drinkers.”1 These low levels of drinking were linked to “detectable increases in blood pressure levels that may lead to a higher risk of cardiovascular events.”1

Rob was stunned. He usually has one or two drinks each day. He didn’t think that would have an effect on his heart. After all, that’s not very much alcohol, is it? But this research tells a different story. Rob decided to learn a bit more about what is considered “normal” – for blood pressure and for alcohol consumption

What’s Normal?

Blood pressure readings of less than 120/80 are considered normal. If your numbers are higher than this, your blood pressure is considered elevated or high (depending on the numbers). The American Heart Association considers 130/80 or higher to be “high blood pressure.”2 Nearly half of U.S. adults have high blood pressure.4

Moderate drinking is defined as consuming up to one drink per day for women, and two for men. Heavy alcohol use is defined as more than three drinks per day for women and four for men. Binge drinking is defined as consuming four or more drinks within two hours for women, and five or more for men.3

What is considered one drink? A drink is defined as 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.3

Rob already knew that health organizations warn us that repeated binge drinking can lead to long-term increases in blood pressure.3 But this latest research indicates that it’s not only binge drinkers who are at risk. 

How Alcohol Affects the Heart

When a person drinks alcohol, the substance relaxes the blood vessels at first, but then the vessels begin to constrict after the alcohol gets metabolized. The next day, blood pressure can stay at higher levels. If the person drinks regularly, the increased blood pressure becomes a pattern that results in higher blood pressure numbers.4

When a person has high blood pressure, their heart has to work harder to pump blood throughout the body. This causes damage to the heart, which creates a risk of heart attack and heart failure.6 

Binge drinking can also put a person at risk for irregular heartbeat that can lead to heart failure or stroke, and heavy drinking can prematurely age a person’s arteries.7

But They Say Red Wine Is Good for You…

As Rob learned more about how alcohol affects the heart, he remembered something he heard about red wine. Didn’t researchers report that it’s good for the heart? 

Sort of…

Researchers aren’t convinced about the reports on red wine as a “heart-healthy” beverage. Other factors may be at play among the wine drinkers involved in the studies. It’s likely that other lifestyle factors – not alcohol – contributed to their heart health, such as a healthy Mediterranean diet or a healthy lifestyle. This suspicion seems to be confirmed by recent research that indicates even low alcohol consumption can increase blood pressure.8

The fact is, research has not established a cause-and-effect link between alcohol and improved heart health.9

The Good News

Rob discovered a silver lining in this news about how alcohol can affect his heart.

Since alcohol can increase blood pressure, he might be able to decrease his blood pressure by cutting back on alcohol use. He discovered that heavy alcohol users who cut back to moderate drinking lowered their blood pressure.3 Rob also learned that experts recommend moderate to no alcohol consumption for people with high blood pressure.3

The bottom line: Alcohol raises blood pressure. The latest research supports the recommendation to avoid alcohol and the World Health Organization’s statement: “When it comes to alcohol consumption, there is no safe amount that does not affect health.”10

Rob decides it will be good for his heart to make some changes. After speaking with his doctor, Rob is hopeful that cutting alcohol out of his diet and increasing his activity level will drop his blood pressure back to a normal, healthy range. 

Are you considering making some changes in your life? If you or someone you love is experiencing a substance use disorder, help is available. Call 800-948-8417 Info iconCalls are forwarded to paid advertisers today to learn about your treatment options.

Sources:

  1. Routinely drinking alcohol may raise blood pressure even in adults without hypertension. (n.d.). American Heart Association. Retrieved February 15, 2024, from https://newsroom.heart.org/news/routinely-drinking-alcohol-may-raise-blood-pressure-even-in-adults-without-hypertension
  2. Understanding blood pressure readings. (2018, May 21). Www.Heart.Org. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/understanding-blood-pressure-readings
  3. Alcohol: Does it affect blood pressure? (2022, October 20). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/expert-answers/blood-pressure/faq-20058254
  4. Even just 1 alcoholic drink a day may increase blood pressure. (2023, July 31). Www.Heart.Org. https://www.heart.org/en/news/2023/07/31/even-just-1-alcoholic-drink-a-day-may-increase-blood-pressure
  5. Nania, R., & Pajer, N. (2022, April 21). 12 surprising things that can raise your blood pressure. AARP. https://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2022/surprising-causes-high-blood-pressure.html
  6. High blood pressure dangers: Hypertension’s effects on your body. (2023, November 28). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/in-depth/high-blood-pressure/art-20045868
  7. Is drinking alcohol part of a healthy lifestyle? (2019, December 30). Www.Heart.Org. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/alcohol-and-heart-health
  8. Limiting alcohol to manage high blood pressure. (2016, December 13). Www.Heart.Org. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/changes-you-can-make-to-manage-high-blood-pressure/limiting-alcohol-to-manage-high-blood-pressure
  9. Drinking red wine for heart health? Read this before you toast. (2019, May 24). Www.Heart.Org. https://www.heart.org/en/news/2019/05/24/drinking-red-wine-for-heart-health-read-this-before-you-toast
  10. World Health Organization: WHO. (2023, January 4). No level of alcohol consumption is safe for our health. World Health Organization: WHO. https://www.who.int/europe/news/item/04-01-2023-no-level-of-alcohol-consumption-is-safe-for-our-health
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