Alcohol and Blood Pressure: How Alcohol Can Affect Hypertension

Can you reduce your risk of high blood pressure by avoiding or limiting alcohol? The answer is yes. If you have high blood pressure, reducing alcohol may be an important part of your treatment.

alcohol blood pressure

If you have already been diagnosed with hypertension, you should talk to your doctor about how much alcohol you can drink.

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Drinking alcohol raises your blood pressure, even if you are not a heavy drinker. [1,2] Having an occasional three drinks during a meal or at a party could cause a temporary increase in blood pressure. [3] However, if you are a regular drinker – you drink two drinks or more every day – you could increase your risk for long-term hypertension. [1]

Hypertension is something you definitely want to avoid. It has been called the silent killer. Even when it is not causing any symptoms, it is increasing your risk for a deadly heart attack or stroke. It can also cause loss of vision, and heart or kidney failure. Avoiding alcohol can reduce your risk of hypertension. Reducing alcohol can help you treat hypertension. [3]

What Does the Research Say?

A 2019 study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, JACC, reviewed alcohol drinking and high blood pressure in over 17,000 Americans. They found that people who drank just 7 to 13 drinks per week significantly increased their risk of hypertension compared to people who did not drink alcohol. In fact, there was up to double the risk for these drinkers. [1]

In 2017, the medical journal Lancet Public Health reviewed 36 trials on lowering blood pressure by reducing alcohol. The review found that people who drank more than two drinks per day could reduce their systolic blood pressure (the upper number) by about five points if they reduced alcohol down to two or fewer drinks per day. They concluded that avoiding alcohol  could be as effective for treating high blood pressure as exercise and weight loss. [2]

Limit Alcohol to Prevent Hypertension

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), you can reduce your risk of hypertension by limiting the amount of alcohol you drink. This is called only drinking alcohol in moderation. That means no more than one drink per day for a woman, and no more than two drinks for a man. [5] If you are a man age 65 or older, you should drop down to just one drink per day. [4] This is the definition of one drink:

  • 12 ounces of beer
  • 4 to 5 ounces of wine
  • 5 ounces of 80-proof hard alcohol like whisky or rum [4,5]

AHA adds that red wine is not a heart-healthy miracle. The belief that red wine is good for your heart is mostly myth, so don’t use that as an excuse to drink more than the limit. [5] Alcohol also has empty calories that can contribute to weight gain, which is another risk factor for hypertension. [4]

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) includes drinking alcohol only in moderation as one of six healthy lifestyle choices that reduce your risk for hypertension. The others are:

  • A diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in salt and saturated fats
  • Losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight
  • Being physically active
  • Not smoking
  • Getting enough sleep [6]

Limit Alcohol to Treat Hypertension

If you have already been diagnosed with hypertension, you should talk to your doctor about how much alcohol you can drink. Your doctor may advise avoiding alcohol or drinking only in moderation. Another danger for people with hypertension is that alcohol can interfere with blood pressure medications and increase side effects of medications. [4]

Studies show that heavy drinkers benefit the most from reducing alcohol or abstaining from alcohol. For many heavy drinkers, quitting or cutting back can be difficult. If you are struggling with your alcohol use talk to your doctor. If you drink three or more drinks every day, it is a good idea to reduce alcohol gradually over one to two weeks. Stopping suddenly can cause a severe rise in blood pressure that could be dangerous. [4]

SOURCES

  1. JACC, Alcohol  Consumption and Risk of Hypertension
  2. Lancet Public Health, The effect of a reduction on alcohol consumption on blood pressure: a systematic review and meta-analysis
  3. American Heart Association, Health Threats From High Blood Pressure
  4. Mayo Clinic, Alcohol: Does it affect blood pressure? 
  5. American Heart Association, Limiting Alcohol to Manage High Blood Pressure
  6. CDC, Prevent High Blood Pressure 

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Chris Iliades, MD

Chris Iliades has an MD degree and 15 years of experience as a freelance writer. Based in Boothbay Harbor, Maine, his byline has appeared regularly on many health and medicine … Read More

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