Alcohol is a beverage enjoyed worldwide, and it’s been a part of human culture since time immemorial. Beer, wine, and spirits are all enjoyed at parties, social events, and celebrations—though sometimes in quantities that aren’t exactly safe and healthy.
While it isn’t always harmful in low doses, alcohol can have serious negative effects when abused.
It’s likely most people know somebody who has experienced some kind of negative impact from drinking, whether it’s an injury like getting a broken arm from a fall or a more serious health complication such as cirrhosis of the liver or heart failure.
Eventually, chronic excessive alcohol use can cause many serious health complications, including a suppressed immune system, increased risk of stroke, weight gain, and cancer. To top all of this off, there also appears to be a relationship between alcohol and hypertension, or high blood pressure.
In this article, we’ll explore the relationship between alcohol and high blood pressure—as well as what you can do to keep yourself safe.
What Is High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)?
Hypertension is a serious condition that develops when your blood pressure is chronically high. Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and has two values.
During systole (when your heart pumps blood), normal blood pressure ranges between 90 and 120 mm Hg. In contrast, your diastole (the pause between each heartbeat when your heart relaxes) is normally between 60 and 80 mm Hg.1
Since everyone has different blood pressure, it’s important to know what your typical values are. Your blood pressure is usually determined by several factors such as age, gender, fitness, and weight.
The American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Cardiology (ACC) define hypertension as having a systolic pressure of above 130 mm Hg or a diastolic pressure greater than 80 mm Hg. Some health professionals may place the threshold a bit higher, at or above 140/90 mm Hg.2
Hypertension can lead to many complications, such as an increased risk of stroke and heart attack, as well as decreased kidney function. These serious consequences can greatly impact a person’s quality of life. If left untreated, hypertension can even be fatal.
Schedule a private call with a Ria Health team member and we can help you get started.
Does Alcohol Affect Blood Pressure?
In short: Yes, drinking alcohol can increase your blood pressure.
The relationship between alcohol use and high blood pressure was suggested as early as 1915. Since then, many studies have been conducted on this issue, and the consensus is that heavy alcohol use can raise blood pressure and lead to hypertension.4
The impact of alcohol on blood pressure depends on how much and how often you drink. Those who consume more are more likely to suffer damaging consequences, while those who consume a moderate amount (only one drink per day) might actually experience some positive impacts.
Binge drinking may also temporarily raise your blood pressure. This means either ingesting enough alcohol to raise your blood alcohol content (BAC) to at least 0.08 percent, or consuming four or more drinks for females and five or more drinks for males in the span of two hours.5
Young adults aged between 18 and 34 years old have the highest rates of binge drinking, specifically among full-time college students.6
In summary, regular, heavy drinking has been consistently linked to hypertension. In turn, hypertension also leads to several long-term complications, such as greater risks for developing heart disease and stroke.
How Does Alcohol Cause High Blood Pressure?
While research is still ongoing, there are several different ways in which researchers believe alcohol may increase your blood pressure.
Alcohol’s Effect on Baroreceptors
Throughout your body, special nerves called baroreceptors reach into the walls of your blood vessels. The main function of these baroreceptors is to maintain a constant level of blood pressure, especially when you change positions.
Research suggests alcohol may impair your baroreceptor response,7 tricking your brain into thinking that your blood pressure is lower than it actually is. As a result, your blood vessels might not adjust themselves properly, leading to higher blood pressure.
It is important to know that while baroreceptors can rapidly adjust to changes in your blood pressure, they are meant to respond to short-term changes. If the pressure in your blood vessels remains high for a long period, your baroreceptors may regard this pressure as the “new normal,” feeding into the development of hypertension.8
Alcohol’s Effect on the RAAS
Your long-term blood pressure is regulated by a crucial set of hormones and enzymes—primarily renin, angiotensin II, and aldosterone. Together, these three form the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system (RAAS).9
The RAAS regulates your blood pressure through several means, including controlling the balance of sodium and water in your blood, and determining how constricted your blood vessels become.
Alcohol triggers the production of more renin.10 In turn, renin influences the production of more angiotensin, causing your blood vessels to constrict. Aside from that, renin also leads to more aldosterone production, resulting in higher fluid retention.
The combination of increased fluid shuttled through narrower vessels causes the heart to pump harder to circulate blood throughout the body. The end result is having higher-than-normal levels of blood pressure.
Alcohol’s Effect on Cortisol
You might have already heard of cortisol, which is also commonly referred to as the body’s stress hormone. True to its name, your body secretes cortisol when you are stressed, and the hormone heavily impacts metabolism, inflammation, and your immune system.
Cortisol raises your heart rate and constricts your blood vessels. It also directs the liver to release sugar (glucose) into the bloodstream. Together, these three result in high blood pressure. Alcohol use throws off your body’s stress response, impacting your cortisol levels, which is one more way heavy drinking can lead to hypertension.
Other Risk Factors
It should be noted that alcohol-induced hypertension is also influenced by other unhealthy habits paired with excessive drinking. These risk factors include poor nutrition, lack of exercise, and smoking.
Chronic stress is also a factor that causes both alcohol use and high blood pressure. Because of this, it’s not always clear whether alcohol itself is the exact cause of hypertension. Nevertheless, drinking less does lower your risk of developing the condition.
How To Prevent And Manage Hypertension from Alcohol Use
Reduce Your Alcohol Consumption
The most straightforward way to prevent and manage your alcohol-induced hypertension is to reduce your alcohol consumption altogether. Fortunately, if your hypertension is caused by alcohol use, its effects are reversible once you begin cutting down on your intake.11
When you reduce your alcohol consumption, you are also reducing the pressure on your body overall. Systems, mechanisms, and organs that have been thrown off-balance by high alcohol levels can begin settling down to their normal range.
If it’s difficult to reduce your alcohol consumption quickly, consider a gradual taper. One way to do this is to gradually replace your alcoholic beverages with mocktails, which are often just as flavorful as regular cocktails (but without the alcohol).
You can also unleash your creativity by trying your hand at different blends and combinations. By making the process a lot more pleasant and rewarding, you’re more likely to succeed!
Read more: How To Taper Off Alcohol
Consult Your Doctor
While it’s easy to say that you should reduce your alcohol consumption, the reality is that it’s difficult to do. Reducing your drinking after prolonged and habitual intake can result in alcohol withdrawal, which can aggravate the problem if improperly managed.
Because of the challenges posed by reducing your alcohol intake, it’s best to consult with a physician first. Your doctor will be more than happy to advise you on how to best manage the transition and lower the overall impact of alcohol withdrawal.
If necessary, your doctor can also prescribe certain medications to help manage your hypertension.
Quitting alcohol consumption is inevitably stressful. Consider what actions you can take to reduce the overall stress in your life—whether that’s starting a mindfulness practice, shifting some priorities, or beginning therapy.
Adjust Your Lifestyle
Since hypertension is a complex condition, it’s also best to consider adopting some lifestyle changes to complement your reduced alcohol intake. By also making other necessary and healthy changes, you’re increasing your chances of successfully managing your hypertension.
So, what lifestyle changes can you make?
You can begin by being more physically active, incorporating more healthy food options such as fruit and vegetables into your diet, and reducing your salt intake. If you happen to smoke, consider quitting that as well.
Help For Cutting Back On Alcohol
Let’s face it: Cutting back on alcohol is difficult, even if you’re aware of how damaging it can be. Even when you have the support of family and friends, the path to a healthier and alcohol-free life can sometimes appear clouded, lonely, and unbearable.
It’s perfectly alright to feel like you can’t do this on your own. After all, the burden becomes a lot lighter when it is shared by many people—especially those who understand what you’re going through.
In today’s age, there are new and innovative ways of getting the help that you need. Ria Health’s online program gives you access to anti-craving medication, weekly coaching meetings, digital tools, and much more—all from an app on your smartphone.
If you’re not ready to completely quit alcohol just yet, we support moderation as a beneficial option as well.
There is no shame in asking for help. Be proud that you’re taking the first steps into living the fuller, more fulfilling, and healthier life that you deserve.
Get in touch with a member of our team today, and learn more about how our program works. Let us accompany you on your journey!