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Hypertension/high blood pressure health centre

Drinking less alcohol

BMJ Group Medical Reference

Introduction

This information is for people who have high blood pressure. It tells you about how drinking less alcohol can help keep your blood pressure under control. This advice is based on the best and most up-to-date research.

Does it work?

Probably. Lots of studies show that drinking a lot of alcohol increases your chances of having high blood pressure. So, drinking less alcohol will probably bring down your blood pressure, especially if you're a heavy drinker.

We don't know whether drinking less alcohol can reduce your risk of having a heart attack or a stroke. Some drugs that lower blood pressure ( beta-blockers, diuretics, ACE inhibitors, and calcium channel blockers) can reduce the chances of these things happening.

What is it?

Drinking less alcohol means cutting back to the recommended limit of no more than three to four units of alcohol a day for men, and no more than two to three units a day for women.

  • A small glass (125 millilitres) of wine contains one-and-a-half units of alcohol

  • Half a pint of ordinary strength lager contains one unit of alcohol

  • A single shot (25 millilitres) of a spirit (such as whisky or gin) contains one unit of alcohol.

Bear in mind that different beers and wines contain different amounts of alcohol.

How can it help?

If you have high blood pressure and drink a large amount of alcohol (25 to 50 drinks each week), cutting back may help lower it. [76] But we're not completely sure, because the results from research have been mixed.

If you already stay within the recommended limits, we don't know if cutting down further will have any effect on your blood pressure. [77]

How does it work?

Studies show that drinking a lot of alcohol is linked to high blood pressure. [78]

No one knows how alcohol works in the body to affect blood pressure. One theory is that the chemicals in alcohol may have an effect on the blood vessels, causing them to tighten and close. This means that blood has to force its way through. And the pressure this puts on the vessel walls will be higher.

Can it be harmful?

Most people won't get any problems from cutting down on alcohol. If you're a very heavy drinker and you stop drinking suddenly, you can get withdrawal symptoms. If you have these symptoms you may need help from a doctor or nurse to deal with them.

How good is the research on drinking less alcohol?

More than 60 studies have shown a link between drinking a lot of alcohol and high blood pressure. [77] So, if you're a heavy drinker, cutting back should help lower your blood pressure, although the research doesn't prove this.

We found one large summary of the research (a systematic review) of seven studies. [76] The studies looked at people with high blood pressure who drank more than the recommended amounts. The results from this research were mixed. The researchers couldn't say for sure whether people with high blood pressure who drink moderate to large amounts of alcohol can lower their blood pressure by cutting back.

Glossary

systematic reviews

A systematic review is a thorough look through published research on a particular topic. Only studies that have been carried out to a high standard are included. A systematic review may or may not include a meta-analysis, which is when the results from individual studies are put together.

For more terms related to High blood pressure

Citations

For references related to High blood pressure click here.
Last Updated: June 20, 2012
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.

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