High blood pressure is a common condition. It affects about 29 percent of American adults who are, as a result, at a greater risk of some of the leading causes of death in the United States. Heavy drinkers are often at a high risk of getting high blood pressure. It occurs when the force of blood flow against the artery walls is high enough to cause health problems and risks, such as heart disease, heart attack and stroke.
Short term increases in blood pressure happen instantly during a period of alcohol consumption. This usually occurs after consuming more than three drinks in one sitting. In this case, blood pressure lowers once the period of drinking has ended and the liver has processed the alcohol content out of the body. Chronic high blood pressure, however, can be a product of excessive alcohol consumption over the course of an extended period of time. About 16 percent of high blood pressure cases are caused by heavy drinking episodes.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is common and many factors can contribute to developing it. Consuming high amounts of alcohol is one such factor. Alcohol has a high calorie and sugar content. Consuming it regularly can cause you to acquire more body fat and gain weight, which increases the risk of high blood pressure. This causes high blood pressure to be a long-term, rather than just a short-term, health issue.
Alcohol increases the amount of fats in the bloodstream. This can damage and harden arteries, making it difficult for blood to flow through. As a result of this difficulty, blood pressure increases.
According to the World Health Organization, high blood pressure accounts for 12.8 percent of all deaths worldwide. In the United States alone, high blood pressure contributes to nearly 1,000 deaths a day. Not only do the chances of having a stroke or heart attack increase greatly, but the chances of death by either stroke or heart attack increases as well. Specifically, the risk of death by stroke increases four times, and the risk of death by heart attack increases three-fold when living with chronic high blood pressure.
Alcohol consumption itself is not the only contributing factor to developing hypertension. An unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, diabetes, high sodium intake, and other substance use are all contributing factors to developing chronic high blood pressure. However, many of these behaviors such as not having a balanced diet, using tobacco, and not exercising, are common among heavy drinkers.
Despite the extreme health risks, only about 54 percent of those with high blood pressure have it under control. There are steps that can be taken to prevent or reduce blood pressure in the case that high blood pressure has already been diagnosed. Quitting or reducing alcohol intake is one way to reduce blood pressure. This should be done gradually and safely. If the reduction of alcohol intake is significant, consider having medical supervision or creating a plan with a doctor.
The standards of low-risk drinking vary based on age and gender. Drinking is considered low-risk at the rate of two drinks a day for men below the age of 65. Low-risk drinking for men above the age of 65, and women at any age, is considered to be one drink a day.
The risk of high blood pressure is extremely serious. It often lacks warning signs, and can develop over the course of years. This puts heavy drinkers at a disadvantage to getting timely treatment. Waiting for symptoms to arise before checking in with or speaking to a doctor about risk and prevention also takes away time to prevent the life threatening consequences, such as heart attack or stroke. Chronic high blood pressure can also result in kidney failure, increased risk of dementia, and damage to other organs due to the limited blood flow from the narrowed arteries and thickened blood.
Eating a balanced diet, exercising more, losing weight, or taking prescribed medications, can all help to prevent high blood pressure.
If you are a frequent drinker with no intention of quitting alcohol, call to find out if you’re an eligible volunteer for a 5-week, paid research study that aims to develop new medications for those suffering from alcohol use disorder.