Does drinking alcohol affect your blood pressure?

Answers from Sheldon G. Sheps, M.D.

Drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure to unhealthy levels. Having more than three drinks in one sitting temporarily increases your blood pressure, but repeated binge drinking can lead to long-term increases.

Heavy drinkers who cut back to moderate drinking can lower their systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading) by 2 to 4 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and their diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number in a blood pressure reading) by 1 to 2 mm Hg. Heavy drinkers who want to lower blood pressure should slowly reduce how much they drink over one to two weeks. Heavy drinkers who stop suddenly risk developing severe high blood pressure for several days.

If you have high blood pressure, avoid alcohol or drink alcohol only in moderation. Moderate drinking is generally considered to be:

  • Two drinks a day for men younger than age 65
  • One drink a day for men age 65 and older
  • One drink a day for women of any age

A drink is 12 ounces (355 milliliters) of beer, 5 ounces (148 milliliters) of wine or 1.5 ounces (44 milliliters) of 80-proof distilled spirits.

Keep in mind that alcohol contains calories and may contribute to unwanted weight gain — a risk factor for high blood pressure. Also, alcohol can interfere with the effectiveness and increase the side effects of some blood pressure medications.

Nov. 02, 2012