Can Alcohol Cause a Stroke?

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Drinking alcohol regularly can lead to many potentially dangerous health conditions. For example, alcohol can contribute to high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes, all of which can increase a person’s risk of stroke. 

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What Is a Stroke?

A stroke occurs when a part of the brain cannot get the oxygen-rich blood it needs because an artery carrying this blood to the brain is obstructed, narrowed, leaking, or ruptured. A stroke is a medical emergency, as affected brain parts can be damaged or die within minutes, possibly leading to long-term disability or death. 

If you are having signs of a stroke, such as face drooping, arm numbness or weakness, or speech difficulties, call 911 immediately or go to the nearest emergency department. 

Different Types of Strokes

The clinical term for stroke is cerebral vascular accident (CVA). There are two types of strokes and a third related medical event known as a “mini-stroke.”

  • Ischemic stroke – This is the most common type of stroke. It occurs when blood clots, plaque, or other obstructions block blood vessels and prevent oxygen-rich blood from reaching the brain.
  • Hemorrhagic stroke – This type of stroke occurs when an artery in the brain leaks or ruptures. The blood that leaks out puts pressure on brain cells, causing damage. Conditions that lead to this type of stroke include hypertension and aneurysms, which are artery walls that weaken and widen or balloon.
  • Transient ischemic attack (TIA) – TIAs are sometimes referred to as “mini-strokes” or “warning strokes.” A TIA indicates that a future stroke is likely to occur, and like ischemic strokes, they are caused by blood clots. 

Can Alcohol Cause a Stroke?

In 2019, a study published in The Lancet revealed that even low amounts of alcohol could increase blood pressure and lead to strokes. The research found that 1-2 alcoholic drinks daily increased the risk of stroke by 10-15%, and four drinks daily increased this risk by 35% 

Standard alcoholic beverages are defined as five oz. of wine at 12% ABV, 12 oz. of beer at 5% ABV, or 1 oz of hard liquor at 40% ABV.

Alcohol use can contribute to the following conditions, all of which heightens a person’s risk of stroke:

High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)

Consuming more than three alcoholic drinks per sitting raises blood pressure temporarily. However, if you are a frequent binge drinker, this can result in long-lasting increases. Hypertension is one of the most common alcohol-related health conditions and is also the #1 contributing factor to strokes.

Being Overweight or Obese

Being overweight or obese is another significant risk factor for stroke. Alcohol use can cause weight gain in several ways. It’s high in calories and hinders your body’s ability to burn fat. It can also increase hunger and lead to poor food choices. (6)

Diabetes

Alcohol impacts how your body uses insulin, which can lead to the development of type II diabetes, thereby doubling a person’s stroke risk. Moderate drinking can increase blood sugar, but heavy drinking can actually lead to severely low blood sugar reactions. This is especially likely for people with type I diabetes who take insulin or pills that stimulate insulin release from the pancreas.

Furthermore, people with diabetes who drink alcohol can compound their risk of stroke in other ways. For example, they are more likely to be overweight and have high blood pressure. Alcohol use can exacerbate both these conditions, and all of these health issues can lead to strokes.

Liver Damage

Alcohol is notorious for causing liver damage, which can cause the liver to stop making proteins needed to assist with blood clotting. (9) In addition, research has found that patients with liver cirrhosis face an increased risk of stroke.

Atrial Fibrillation

A heart arrhythmia called atrial fibrillation increases the risk of stroke and can be triggered by excessive alcohol consumption.

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Should You Drink Alcohol After a Stroke, or Will Your Condition Get Worse?

Because alcohol use is related to conditions that are risk factors for strokes, you should avoid drinking if you’ve already had one. Moreover, if you have hypertension, obesity, or diabetes that contributed to your stroke, ongoing alcohol use will continue to feed into these problems in the future.

Also, drinking alcohol while taking blood thinners to reduce future stroke risk can lead to dangerous drug interactions and side effects. Alcohol use can also exacerbate mental health conditions, such as depression, which are commonly experienced in the aftermath of a stroke.

So, drinking alcohol if you are still experiencing complications from a stroke can worsen your symptoms. In addition to those mentioned above, alcohol can exacerbate speech, vision, thinking, and balance changes and impairments caused by your stroke. 

Are Alcoholics More Susceptible to Strokes?

Alcoholics may be more susceptible to strokes because, as noted, alcohol use has been associated with various medical conditions that are significant risk factors for stroke. Although alcohol is not thought to trigger strokes, drinking too much can worsen many existing health problems and even directly provoke them.

How Much Alcohol Can Cause a Stroke?

There is no exact amount of alcohol that can cause a stroke. In fact, no amount of alcohol can even trigger a stroke directly. However, drinking excessively and for a prolonged period has been associated with the development and worsening of many health conditions that can, in fact, cause a stroke, such as high blood pressure or heart disease.

The 2019 Lancet study, as noted above, found that consuming one or two glasses of alcohol daily may increase a person’s risk of stroke.

What Other Health Conditions Can Alcohol Cause?

In addition to those already discussed, heavy and prolonged alcohol use can lead to the development of other chronic conditions

Chronic Conditions Linked to Alcohol Use:

  • Breast, mouth, throat, larynx, esophagus, liver, colon, and rectum cancers
  • Compromised immune system, increasing the risk of illness
  • Issues with memory and learning, such as dementia and poor academic performance
  • Mental health disorders, including anxiety and depression
  • Alcohol use disorder and dependence

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What Is Excessive Drinking?

It may be challenging to determine how much alcohol is too much without having a standard to refer to. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), excessive alcohol use includes binge drinking or heavy drinking.

Binge drinking refers to consuming large amounts of alcohol in a relatively short period. For women, this is four or more standard drinks, and for men, five or more standard drinks.

Heavy drinking refers to consuming large amounts of alcohol over time. This is eight or more standard drinks per week for women, and for men, it’s 15 or more.

For women, moderate drinking is defined as one or fewer drinks per day, and for men, less than two per day

Getting Professional Help for Alcohol Addiction

If you’re concerned about alcohol’s effect on your health, including your stroke risk, it’s essential to recognize the dangers of excessive drinking. And if you’ve tried to reduce your alcohol intake in the past and failed, it may be time to seek medical help and support for your condition.

Guardian Recovery is a comprehensive addiction treatment center dedicated to helping individuals overcome addiction and improve their health and wellness. Please contact us today for a free, no-obligation consultation and insurance benefits check.

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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

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Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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