The Connection Between Hypertension and Alcohol

By Terez Malka, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
February 15, 2022

Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, affects nearly half of the U.S. adult population and can be a result of many factors—one of them being alcohol consumption.

Many Americans drink alcohol at least occasionally and for most, moderate drinking is relatively safe, but when drinking heavily over time becomes part of a person’s lifestyle, they can greatly increase their risk for hypertension and other harmful conditions. 

What is Hypertension?

Blood pressure is the force exerted by your blood flowing on the walls of your arteries—tubular structures that carry blood to different parts of your body.

This means that your blood pressure is determined by both the amount of blood your heart pumps through your body’s arteries as well as the amount of resistance to this blood flow.

When your arteries are healthy and dilated, the resistance to blood flow is low, and blood flows easily through your body.

But when your arteries are too narrow or stiff, resistance to blood flow increases, and therefore, your blood pressure rises.

This causes your heart to work harder than normal to pump blood through the body.

The extra work thickens the muscles of your heart and further hardens or damages artery walls. 

How Alcohol Can Cause Hypertension

Drinking too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure to unhealthy levels.

According to a number of studies over the years, there are several possible ways that alcohol is believed to raise blood pressure—these include:

  • Imbalance in the central nervous system (CNS) or sympathetic nervous system (SNS)
  • Imbalance of vasoconstrictors such as endothelium 
  • Impairment of baroreceptor control in the brain
  • Increased activity of the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system
  • Increased plasma cortisol levels
  • Increased amount of calcium that binds to the blood vessels

Symptoms of Hypertension

For most people with hypertension, there are no obvious signs or symptoms.

This is why hypertension can go undetected for years if people do not have their blood pressure checked.

In fact, 17% of Americans with hypertension are undiagnosed.

Some people with high blood pressure may have a pounding feeling in their chest or head, or feel some lightheadedness or dizziness.

Unfortunately for many others, the first sign of high blood pressure may be when they are already showing signs of cardiovascular disease or have suffered a heart attack or stroke.

This is why hypertension is known in the medical world as “the silent killer.” 

Treating Alcohol Induced Hypertension

The good news is, alcohol-induced hypertension is treatable, and mainly requires some lifestyle changes.

These changes include:

Limiting alcohol intake

Those who cut back to moderate drinking can lower their top number in a blood pressure reading (systolic blood pressure) by about 2-4 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and their bottom number (diastolic blood pressure) by about 1-2 mm Hg.

Heavy drinkers who want to lower blood pressure should slowly reduce how much they drink over 1-2 weeks with medical supervision.

  • For most women, moderate drinking is no more than one standard drink a day
  • For most men, moderate drinking is no more than two standard drinks a day
  • A standard drink is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits
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Other lifestyle changes

In addition to limiting alcohol intake, physical conditioning and regular exercise can help treat alcohol-induced hypertension by increasing the body’s use of oxygen and increasing the antioxidant defense system within the cardiovascular system.

Being physically active for at least 30 minutes per day on most days is one of the most important things you can do to lower your blood pressure.

It doesn’t have to be a high-impact activity—walking, cycling, yoga, or even chores around the house can help control your blood pressure.

Other lifestyle changes that could help lower blood pressure include:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Reducing stress
  • Getting better quality sleep
  • Quitting smoking
  • Taking certain vitamins and supplements

Risks of Alcohol Induced Hypertension

The more alcohol you drink, the higher your risk of developing hypertension.

If you drink regularly you are at risk, especially if you’re over the age of 35.

When your blood vessels are narrower, the heart has to work harder to push blood around your body.

This makes your blood pressure go up.

High blood pressure can significantly increase your risk of:

  • Stroke
  • Heart disease
  • Vascular dementia, which is caused when not enough blood gets to the brain
  • Chronic kidney disease

Health Benefits of Avoiding Alcohol

There are many physical and mental health benefits to avoiding alcohol.

Some of these include:

  • Better sleep 
  • Healthy weight
  • Better skin
  • Improved physical health
  • Improved mental health
  • Stronger immune system
  • Enhanced nutrition
  • Lower risk of cancer and other conditions
  • Potential improvements to relationships

When to See a Doctor

Regardless of your age or medical history, take the time to get an annual medical check-up, which will include a blood pressure test.

Since hypertension often has no clear signs or symptoms, taking a blood pressure reading is the only way to diagnose it.

This is especially important if you are drinking excessively or more than what is considered “in moderation.”

If you have been diagnosed with hypertension and are not seeing improvement after making necessary lifestyle changes, you should consult with your doctor again. 

How K Health Can Help

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Frequently Asked Questions

How much alcohol do you need to ingest for it to affect your blood pressure?
Having more than three drinks in one sitting temporarily raises your blood pressure, and repeated daily drinking can lead to long-term increases.
Is there a type of alcohol that is safe for hypertension?
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends drinking alcoholic beverages only in moderation, if at all. Some studies have concluded that there is no significant difference between beer, wine, and spirits when it comes to increasing or lowering blood pressure. Your best bet is to limit consumption and look for some non-alcoholic options.
How long will it take for blood pressure to reduce after stopping alcohol intake?
Once your alcohol consumption is reduced, it can take a few days to see an improvement in blood pressure assuming there are no other conditions contributing to your hypertension.
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Terez Malka, MD

Dr. Terez Malka is a board-certified pediatrician and emergency medicine physician.

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