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How Alcohol Affects Blood Pressure

author image Leah DiPlacido, Ph.D.
Leah DiPlacido, a medical writer with more than nine years of biomedical writing experience, received her doctorate in immunology from Yale University. Her work is published in "Journal of Immunology," "Arthritis and Rheumatism" and "Journal of Experimental Medicine." She writes about disease for doctors, scientists and the general public.
How Alcohol Affects Blood Pressure
Large amounts of alcohol causes blood pressure, measured by a blood pressure cuff, to rise. Photo Credit EHStock/iStock/Getty Images

Alcohol is rapidly absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract, travels through the bloodstream, and is absorbed by various tissues throughout the body. It causes immediate short-term effects on your body after you drink several drinks in one sitting; it also causes long-term chronic effects if you drink it regularly in large amounts. Alcohol has varying effects on blood pressure, depending on the amount you consume and whether you drink occasionally or chronically.

Small Amount Lowers Blood Pressure

In small doses, alcohol has a healthy effect on your blood pressure. Drinking small amounts of alcohol has been shown to lower your blood pressure between 2 and 4 mmHg. This protective effect of alcohol occurs when women drink up to one drink a day, and men drink up to two drinks a day. However, you shouldn't start to drink alcohol solely for its effect on blood pressure if you do not drink already.

Large Amount Raises Blood Pressure: Short-term

Drinking alcohol in excess of the amount recommended for men and women has the reverse effect of small doses: having more than one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men actually raises your blood pressure. This spike in blood pressure happens immediately, but the increase is temporary. Alcohol can also impact people who are taking medication in order to lower their chronically high blood pressure, since alcohol can interfere with drugs that are designed to lower blood pressure. Because the medication is not working effectively, the blood pressure of those who take these drugs can rise even more.

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Large Amounts Raise Blood Pressure: Long-term

Although your blood pressure may return to normal after a night of heavy drinking if you only drink too much alcohol sporadically, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol over the long term causes chronic high blood pressure. In addition to its effects on blood pressure, alcohol also contributes to the blood vessel disease atherosclerosis, and even increases your risk of suffering a stroke.

Stopping Suddenly After Long-term Use

If you regularly drink excessive amounts of alcohol, stopping drinking alcohol suddenly could result in a further dangerous spike in blood pressure. Consult with a doctor before you stop drinking or taper off slowly in order to prevent the blood pressure increase. However, if you stop drinking in a safe manner, such as under the care of a doctor, your blood pressure can drop significantly.

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