Stroke and Alcohol

What is a stroke?

A stroke is unfortunately the second most common cause of death worldwide.1 It occurs when the blood flow to part of the brain is cut off either by a blockage (which is known as an ischaemic stroke) or the bursting of a blood vessel such as a vein or artery (which is known as a haemorrhagic stroke).2 As the blood carries oxygen, when a blockage or bursting occurs, the oxygen supply to that part of the brain is cut off. This results in an area of brain cells suddenly dying, which can lead to disability or death depending on how extensive the damage is, and in what part of the brain it occurs.1

Risk factors of a stroke include smoking, low physical activity, and an unhealthy diet.1 All of these factors cause hypertension, which is also known as high blood pressure. High blood pressure can damage the walls of blood vessels, which can result in the blood clots and burst blood vessels that lead to ischaemic and haemorrhagic stroke.3 Many other health conditions such as heart attack, heart disease and dementia have been linked to high blood pressure, and reducing blood pressure has been shown to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease.4 

Alcohol is a risk factor for a stroke

Drinking a lot of alcohol is also a cause of high blood pressure.5,4 Consuming alcohol is therefore known to be another risk factor of both ischaemic and haemorrhagic stroke. This risk increases the more alcohol a person drinks. Heavy alcohol consumption (more than 14 units a week) has been well documented to increase your risk of having a stroke for both ischaemic and haemorrhagic types.6, 7, 5 

What does excessive alcohol do to the blood vessels in the brain?

Avoid alcohol after a stroke

Lowering the blood pressure of patients after they have had a stroke (decreasing hypertension) is the best way to prevent another stroke from occurring.8 Therefore alcohol, which raises blood pressure, should be avoided after having a stroke to give the patient the best chance of recovery and to make sure that they don’t suffer the same thing again.

If you’re concerned about your alcohol intake

The recommended maximum alcohol intake for adult men and women is 14 units per week, which is the same as 6 pints of beer or 10 small glasses of wine. This is ideally meant to be spread out across 3 days rather than drunk all at once.9

However, this figure is the maximum recommended amount. Whether you drink more or less than this, it would of course be beneficial to lower the amount of alcohol you consume per week. Decreasing your alcohol intake leads to many health benefits, such as lower blood pressure, cholesterol, risk of stroke, cancer and liver disease.10

If you are hoping to decrease your alcohol intake, then seeking the advice of a medical professional is always a good idea. Strategies to help reduce drinking include setting a weekly alcohol budget, choosing lower strength alcohols (for example, white wines instead of reds, or beers under 4% ABV), only drinking with meals, or finding a hobby such as exercise to avoid boredom rather than drinking.10

When to contact a doctor

Whilst lowering the amount of alcohol you drink will decrease your risk of having a stroke, it is always good to know what to look for and what to do if the worst does happen. Symptoms of a stroke are sudden and intense.11 Early diagnosis and treatment increases a stroke victim’s chances of survival and recovery, so if someone is suspected to have had a stroke, it is very important to seek medical attention at once. 

Whilst only a medical professional can diagnose a stroke, the FAST acronym can help you tell if someone has had one. FAST stands for Facial drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulties and Test/Time. In other words, someone who has had a stroke is likely to show facial paresis (muscle weakness/partial paralysis), arm drift, and have abnormal speech.11 They will need to go to hospital immediately.

As mentioned already, strokes tend to appear rapidly, with loss of function of a part of the body (becoming weak, or unable to sense anything). Other symptoms can also involve blindness, double vision, clumsiness, dizziness, chest pain, vertigo or speech disturbance. These symptoms depend on which part of the brain has lost its oxygen supply; for example, the cerebellum area of the brain controls balance and coordination, and someone who has had a stroke in this area may appear dizzy or have vertigo.11 


To summarise, a stroke is a serious condition that can be fatal or cause lifetime disabilities. Heavy alcohol consumption increases a person’s risk of having a stroke, as well as many other health conditions, as it raises blood pressure, which can damage blood vessels. It is therefore advisable to avoid heavy drinking. If you or someone else experiences any symptoms of a stroke (particularly those in the FAST acronym), contact emergency services immediately. Fast action may save your life, or reduce the chances of serious, permanent damage to your quality of life.


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Amelia Summers

BSc (Hons) Neuroscience - University of Exeter

Amelia Summers is a recent graduate in Neuroscience, a multidisciplinary course that covered areas including pharmacology, disease pathology and psychology. She has experience in medical writing, data analysis and practical laboratory skills. Her final year research project in university was a scientific communications dissertation, compiling a profile of articles and essays aimed at a variety of different audiences, under the heading of ‘Antidepressants, Antipsychotics and Weight’. presents all health information in line with our terms and conditions. It is essential to understand that the medical information available on our platform is not intended to substitute the relationship between a patient and their physician or doctor, as well as any medical guidance they offer. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions based on the information found on our website.
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