While many older Americans will naturally have rising blood pressure as they age, there are numerous behaviors which contribute to hypertension (unhealthy elevated blood pressure) for younger and middle-aged adults. It is common to associate things such as frequent smoking and high levels of salt in our diets with hypertension, but what is less known is that regular alcohol use and misuse is often a contributing factor as well.
Why exactly are my blood pressure levels important?
Having high blood pressure is simply an elevation of the pressure levels of blood pumping through your veins at times of rest. When your blood pressure is elevated for long periods of time (chronic elevation, or hypertension), it increases your risk of adverse health reactions such as a heart attack or stroke. Over 1 in 3 Americans experience hypertension in their lifetimes, and of that number, only 51% have their blood pressure levels under control via medications and alternative treatments.
Alcohol’s impact on blood pressure
The regular consumption of alcohol has been shown to have detrimental effects on an individual’s blood pressure levels. Studies show that the risk of hypertensive disease due to alcohol use is an estimated 16% amongst the general population, and is roughly equivalent regardless of race or gender. When regular consumption ventures into binge-use, the risks associated with high blood pressure and additional cardiovascular diseases greatly rise as well.
“What about red wine? I’ve heard it helps my heart!”
The widely disproved urban myth that moderate drinking, especially the consumption of red wine, can be beneficial to your health has proliferated modern culture for many years. Research shows, however, that increases in hypertension, as well as other cardiovascular diseases, is equivalent across all alcoholic types. Whether you are consuming beer, wine, malt beverages, or hard liquor, the effect is the same. The one proven method of improving heart health is the complete abstinence from any alcohol use for at least a period of 2-4 weeks. However, for those that have a severe alcohol use disorder, there are likely to be reoccurring blood pressure issues for some time. The best remedy? Prolonged abstinence, regular exercise, and healthy dieting.
Does alcohol use impact women and men the same way?
It might seem that men and women would experience differing levels of blood pressure increase due to their alcohol use. After all, diets and exercise appear to impact us differently, right? The short answer is that researchers have found no meaningful differences in the impact regular alcohol use has on blood pressure effects for men and women. Though women typically process alcohol out of the body at a slower rate, the effect alcohol has on blood pressure occurs over periods of days and weeks, irrespective of the time it takes to metabolize out of the body and blood stream.
How much alcohol impacts blood pressure levels?
Regular consumption of alcohol typically is viewed as less than 1-2 drinks per week, while binge drinking is viewed as having more than five drinks in a two-hour period for men or more than four drinks in a two-hour period for women. Any amount of alcohol will impact the nervous system, which oversees the dilation and constriction of blood vessels in the body, and will result in a change in blood pressure. However, unhealthy changes in blood pressure are likely to develop at rates of 16% with regular consumption, and at even higher rates in binge-drinking behaviors. The good news? Abstinence and other lifestyle changes have been shown to reverse the impact alcohol use has on blood pressure for most people.
How to improve blood pressure after prolonged alcohol use
Alcohol’s effects on the body are not limited to blood pressure. In fact, numerous long-term health problems result from the regular and chronic use of alcohol. The good news, though, is that behavioral changes are possible! Prolonged abstinence, coupled with other healthy lifestyle changes, has been shown to reverse hypertension and other long-term health problems associated with alcohol use. When regular alcohol use has become a severe alcohol use disorder, professional treatment services are often necessary to mitigate these health effects, including high blood pressure.
There are numerous factors which attribute to hypertension in Americans—including smoking, dietary habits, lack of exercise, and drug and alcohol use. The health effects of hypertension are not permanent, and prolonged abstinence and lifestyle changes often result in the complete reversal of the effects alcohol has had on physical health. Just as we hear of our friends and loved ones having to decrease salt intake, or the amount of red meat they eat, based on the doctor’s orders, we can also stop risky and problematic alcohol use to improve our health as well.
Implementing these strategies by yourself can be tough, but you don’t have to do it alone. Contact our team at Orlando Recovery Center to see how we can help you become sober and create an individualized treatment plan to reverse the mental and physical effects of alcohol use.
Burke, V. “Alcohol and Hypertension: Kill or Cure”. NCBI. 10 February 1996. 24 August 2016. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8868036
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Binge Drinking”. CDC. 16 October 2015. 24 August 2016. http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/binge-drinking.htm
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “High Blood Pressure”. CDC. 5 May 2016. 24 August 2016. https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/
Puddey, IB. “Alcohol is bad for blood pressure”. National Center for Biotechnology Information. NCBI, 15 September 2006. 24 August 2016. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16922819