Alcohol, High Blood Pressure, and Heart Damage: The Link

A great deal of emphasis has been placed on the so-called “benefits” of drinking in the media, but the fact is that only a small amount of alcohol can be helpful and only in certain cases.

In every case, if you do not drink, it is not recommended that you start in order to attempt to achieve these benefits. That means that if you are in recovery, there is no potential benefit to drinking small amounts of any kind of alcohol given the huge risks of a return to active drinking and drug use. It also means that if you have high blood pressure, even a single ounce of alcohol every day could change the way your heart functions and put you at risk, according to a new study.

Specifically, the study found that a person who is living with high blood pressure is at risk of impairment to the lower left chamber of the heart when exposed to even small amounts of alcohol. This chamber is the chamber responsible for exporting blood from the heart to the rest of the body.

Dr. Leonardo Sechi was lead researcher on the study. He says: “Because even moderate alcohol consumption increases occurrence of early functional cardiac changes in patients [with high blood pressure], reduction of use of alcoholic beverages might be beneficial for prevention of cardiac complications in these patients.”

Alcohol and High Blood Pressure

It is estimated that about 29 percent of American adults, or one in three people aged 18 and older, are living with high blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is a risk factor for heart disease (the most common cause of death in the US) and stroke (the third most common cause of death).

Though it is not known how or why alcohol ingestion damages the heart chamber, and the study did not provide a cause and effect, it is clear that heavy drinking can cause heart problems that may ultimately be fatal. Sechi’s team noted that the higher the average amount of alcohol intake noted by participants, the more difficult it was for the heart to fill with blood after every heartbeat.

Health and Recovery

For those in recovery from an alcohol use disorder, the goal is total abstinence under all circumstances, but for those who are also living with high blood pressure, it is especially imperative to remain relapse-free. Heavy alcohol intake has also been linked to an increased risk of atrial fibrillation, which in turn can result in congestive heart failure among other medical issues, so a relapse can be particularly dangerous to those with high blood pressure or an underlying arrhythmia.

Improving Health in Recovery

One of the benefits of stopping drinking and starting to live a life that is free of use of all substances is the ability to begin to heal physically from the damage done by active addiction. For those who have high blood pressure, it can mean starting to work out regularly, and focusing on healthy nutrition and other positive choices to get the numbers where they should be. Though this may not be the case in every situation, medication may help to manage the problem, and positive lifestyle changes over time may result in healthy blood pressure that no longer requires medication maintenance. While this may feel like a lot to add on to the job of addressing issues related to substance use and abuse, and potentially co-occurring mental health symptoms as well, it can actually mean that little changes here and there make your ability to focus in recovery and continue to progress that much easier.

Some little things you can do to manage your high blood pressure in recovery include:

  • Cut back on sodium. This doesn’t mean you are never allowed to use salt to flavor a meal again, but it can mean opting for an at-home meal over a sodium-laden fast food sandwich or making soup yourself rather than opening a can of high-sodium soup. Processed foods are packed with sodium, so you can cut back by choosing fresh items as the bases for your meals.
  • Avoid alcohol. Check! If you are in recovery, you are already not drinking, so you are helping to lower your blood pressure every day you stay sober.
  • Get active. You don’t have to train for a marathon to have a positive impact on your health through exercise. Talk a walk, go for a swim, or take a yoga class to make sure that you get up and get moving every day.
  • Eat healthily. Unhealthy weight is a significant factor in high blood pressure. While losing weight may have previously seemed like an impossibility, cutting out alcohol means you are dropping tons of empty calories from your diet already. If you also cut back on processed foods as advised above, you will further find that your weight will steadily begin to drop. If you’d like to see a bigger impact more quickly, fill up half your plate at every meal with fruits and veggies, and replace your fried foods and sweets with whole grains and lean protein, and you will make significant progress.

If you are living with an alcohol use disorder and you make the commitment to stop drinking, you are already doing amazing things for your health and wellness. Continuing to make other positive lifestyle choices will help you to make steady progress in all areas in recovery.

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Editorial Staff
Editorial Staff, American Addiction Centers
The editorial staff of Desert Hope Treatment Center is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have... Read More