Can Alcoholism Cause a Stroke?
Alcohol consumption at low to moderate levels is not usually harmful and may even be beneficial for health. Heavy drinking, however, can have serious adverse effects and is a risk factor for serious health consequences. In this article, we will examine the link between drinking alcohol and stroke risk.
Ischemic, hemorrhagic, and mini-stroke: What’s the difference?
Before we delve into the relationship between alcohol and strokes, let’s quickly understand the major types of strokes.
Ischemic stroke is the most common type of stroke. It occurs when a blood clot develops in an artery in the brain and blocks blood flow, thus preventing oxygen from reaching the brain.
A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a weakened blood vessel leaks or bursts inside the brain, causing bleeding in or around the brain (intracerebral hemorrhage or subarachnoid hemorrhage).
A transient ischemic attack (TIA, mini-stroke, or brain attack) is a short period of stroke symptoms that does not cause any permanent damage to brain cells. TIAs are warning signs for future strokes.
Is there a link between alcohol consumption and stroke risk?
Yes, research shows a link between alcohol intake and stroke risk. Here’s what scientists have found.
Researchers in Sweden and the United Kingdom investigated possible links between alcohol consumption and different types of stroke. They found that light to moderate drinking may reduce the risk of ischemic stroke but has no impact on the risk of hemorrhagic stroke. On the other hand, heavy drinking is associated with an increased risk of stroke, primarily hemorrhagic strokes.
However, it is worth noting that while moderate drinking may lower the risk of ischemic stroke, the disadvantages of alcohol use still outweigh any potential benefits. This is because alcohol consumption can lead to high blood pressure and other health conditions, which are major risk factors for stroke.
Researchers have also found that people who average more than two drinks a day have a significantly higher risk of stroke compared to those who consume less than half a drink a day on average.
Furthermore, people who drink heavily are likely to have a stroke 5 years earlier in life compared to non-drinkers and light drinkers.
Also, alcohol use raises stroke risk to the same degree as diabetes and high blood pressure, which are known major risk factors for stroke.
Lastly, studies found that middle-aged identical twins who had a stroke drank more than their siblings who hadn’t had a stroke. This indicates that heavy drinkers in middle age have a higher stroke risk regardless of genetics and lifestyle factors.
Frequently Asked Questions
What type of stroke does alcohol cause?
Heavy drinking raises the risk of all types of stroke. However, heavy drinkers are at particularly high risk of hemorrhagic strokes (vessels of brain bleeds).
Can drinking too much cause a mini-stroke?
Yes, heavy drinking can increase the risk of mini-strokes or transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), which are warning signs of future ischemic strokes.
Why does drinking alcohol increase the risk of stroke?
Excessive alcohol intake of more than two drinks a day can lead to a range of health conditions that are risk factors for stroke. Alcohol contributes to raised blood pressure, weight gain, changes in how the body responds to insulin and diabetes, atrial fibrillation, cardiomyopathy, and liver damage, which can increase stroke risk.
For example, liver damage caused by alcohol can prevent the body from making substances that help the blood clot. Alcohol can therefore cause lower levels of blood coagulation (this explains why alcohol can increase the risk of hemorrhagic stroke or brain bleeds but may offer some protection against transient ischemic attacks and ischemic strokes when consumed in moderation).
Can I drink alcohol if I’ve had a stroke?
While moderate alcohol consumption is generally safe for healthy individuals, people who have had a stroke should speak to a healthcare professional before drinking alcohol. In particular, people who have had a hemorrhagic stroke (bleeding in or around the brain) need to avoid alcohol for a few weeks after the stroke and probably forever.
Alcohol can increase the risk of having another stroke, interact with medications such as blood thinners, and worsen symptoms like poor sleep, poor balance, speech problems, mood swings, troubles with memory and thinking, and depression, which are common after a stroke.
What are safe levels of alcohol use?
Moderate amounts of alcohol use in healthy adults are a maximum of one drink a day for women and a maximum of two drinks a day for men. One drink is beer (355 milliliters or 12 fluid ounces), wine (148 milliliters or 5 fluid ounces), or distilled spirits (44 milliliters or 1.5 fluid ounces).
If you are struggling with heavy alcohol use and seeking addiction treatment options for alcoholism, your doctor can advise you about the services and support available in your area. Getting addiction treatment will lower your stroke risks and your risk of other serious chronic health conditions.