Does Alcohol Lower Blood Pressure?

Recent research shows that an increasing number of people in the UK are drinking unhealthy amounts of alcohol, increasing their risk of alcohol dependence. This can have dangerous effects on not just the liver but the heart as well. However, concerns regarding alcohol’s impact on cardiovascular health are dismissed due to a widely held notion that it’s ‘good for the heart.’ This is despite the fact that the evidence surrounding the claim is pretty weak. Nevertheless, it has led many to believe that alcohol is helpful for lowering blood pressure. So, let’s take a look at whether alcohol lowers blood pressure and how it can impact cardiovascular health.

How Alcohol Impacts Blood Pressure

Alcohol can affect blood pressure in different ways depending on the quantity and frequency of consumption. Research shows that lower amounts of alcohol don’t affect blood pressure in the short term. However, studies do point to a link between excessive alcohol consumption and high blood pressure.
This begs the question: what counts as excessive drinking? For males, binge drinking is defined as having more than eight units of alcohol in a single session, and for females, it means having six units of alcohol in one session. The CDC describes it as having five or more drinks for men and four or more drinks for women in the span of two hours.

Signs That Alcohol Is Affecting Your Blood Pressure

Though most people experience the effects of alcohol on their blood pressure, few are able to recognize the signs and seek medical help. When alcohol affects your blood pressure, you may experience symptoms like headaches, dizziness, fatigue, and a rapid heartbeat.

Can Alcohol Lower Blood Pressure?

Yes. Although alcohol is usually linked to high blood pressure, it can cause the opposite effect, i.e., hypotension. However, it only happens in the short term, so the effect is usually temporary. This happens because alcohol acts as a depressant on your central nervous system, slowing down your heart rate and blood pressure. One study shows that both medium and high doses of alcohol resulted in lower blood pressure, but in the case of a higher dosage, this was followed by an increase in blood pressure.

Why Does Alcohol Lower My Blood Pressure?

Alcohol ends up lowering blood pressure due to the release of various substances. This includes nitric oxide, which causes your blood vessels to widen, leading to lower blood pressure. Even so, these substances don’t keep your blood pressure low for long. Your blood pressure ends up increasing about 12 to 13 hours after your last drink, particularly if you have consumed excessive amounts of alcohol.

How Can Alcohol Cause High Blood Pressure?

In the long term, frequent heavy drinking can increase your risk of developing hypertension. As a result, your blood pressure doesn’t go back to normal levels, even in between drinking episodes. And this isn’t limited to heavy drinkers; even if you drink between 7 and 13 drinks per week, you’re twice as likely to develop hypertension compared to people who don’t drink alcohol. Numbers by the British Heart Foundation show that an estimated 14.4 million adults in the UK struggle with high blood pressure. Considering the millions of UK adults who are drinking unhealthy amounts of alcohol, an overlap between excessive alcohol consumption and hypertension is more than likely.

How Does Alcohol Increase Blood Pressure?

While it’s true that alcohol contains certain substances that lower blood pressure, the overall effect is that it increases your blood pressure. This happens because alcohol affects different organ systems, such as your blood vessels, kidneys, and nervous system, all of which play a role in affecting your blood pressure.

  • Your brain triggers the release of adrenaline, which can increase your heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Alcohol consumption causes calcium levels to rise, narrowing your blood vessels and causing an increase in blood pressure.
  • Other hormones like cortisol and vasopressin lead to increased water retention, leading to a rise in blood pressure.

And the link between alcohol use and increased blood pressure is deeper than these direct effects. In fact, alcoholic drinks usually have more empty calories and sugar, causing weight gain and diabetes when consumed in excess. Keep in mind that conditions such as diabetes or obesity are often associated with hypertension.

Who Is At Risk Of Alcohol Affecting Their Blood Pressure?

Some groups of people, such as those with a specific health condition, are more susceptible to alcohol’s effects on blood pressure. First and foremost, this includes people who have a history of hypertension and are currently taking medication to manage their blood pressure. Similarly, diabetes and heavy drinking cause a higher likelihood of developing hypertension.

If you have a history of hypertension, another reason to avoid alcohol is due to its harmful interactions with heart medication. In some cases, alcohol can enhance the effects of blood pressure medication to a significant extent, causing a dangerous drop in blood pressure.

How Long After Giving Up Alcohol Will Blood Pressure Lower?

If you or a loved one is struggling with blood pressure problems due to alcohol consumption, you’re probably wondering if limiting your alcohol intake will reduce its effects on blood pressure. Yes, it will, but how long after stopping alcohol will blood pressure lower? One study on the effects of alcohol withdrawal on hypertensive drinkers shows that participants’ blood pressures had reduced significantly by the third day. However, this can vary, and it can take even longer for blood pressure to return to normal in some cases.

Alcohol Detox

If you’re experiencing the negative effects of alcohol on your blood pressure but are struggling to cut back on alcohol consumption, consider seeking professional help. During alcohol detox, traces of alcohol will be metabolized and removed from your body. While it’s an effective course for quitting alcohol consumption and reducing your blood pressure, detox can result in withdrawal symptoms. Therefore, it’s best to undergo an alcohol detox under the supervision of a medical professional.



Jason Shiers
Author / Jason Shiers / Dip.Psych MBACP
Jason Shiers is a Certified Transformative Coach & Certified Psychotherapist who is a specialist in addiction, trauma and eating disorders. He has been working in the field of addiction for 25 years now.

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