Does alcohol detox cause high blood pressure?

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Yes, Alcohol detox can cause high blood pressure. Alcohol is a sedative drug that slows the functioning of our brain. Through continuous and excessive usage, the body becomes addicted.

During alcohol detox, the brain's functioning attempts to manage the lack of alcohol.  

In the absence of alcohol our body becomes out of balance, hyperactive, or overactive leading to a hyper-sympathetic state causing sweating, high blood pressure, and rapid heart rate.

Anybody who has had alcohol detox after chronic alcohol addiction has experienced these symptoms to some extent. 

Have you chosen to get sober? If so, that is the initial step in the right direction, and you must be proud of yourself.

Now, you must decide whether you want to enter an alcohol addiction treatment facility farther away or close to your home.  

There are several pros and cons of going to an alcohol detox programme nearer to your home.

If you are thinking about alcohol abstinence and joining a programme closer to your home, there are plenteous benefits of joining an in-patient alcohol abuse programme. 

Similarly, in an outpatient programme, you can take care of your responsibilities, have a flexible schedule, and as a side benefit, plenteous insurance plans cover outpatient.  

The disadvantages include no 24-hour support, the possibility that the programme doesn’t provide medical detox, and exposure to withdrawal symptoms when you attend a party, event, or home. 

Purpose of alcohol detoxification 

Alcohol detoxification is explained as the natural procedure that occurs in the body to clean our body from toxins and waste products from long-term, excessive alcohol consumption. 

In a treatment setting, alcohol detox is generally accompanied by medical observation, medication, and counselling 

“Alcohol detox is a period of medical treatment that generally includes counselling during which a person is supported to overcome psychological and physical alcohol dependence.”

Prolonged alcohol addiction can cause biological and tolerance changes that lead to false homeostasis. Cutting off this balance and restoring the alcoholics to a healthy state is an important process as it is sophisticated. 

Side effects of alcohol detox 

Medically assisted alcohol detox limits some of the negative side effects of the user experiences; some of them are ineluctable.

Usually, different side effects will show up during the two stages of alcohol detox.  

During Phase 1 of alcohol detox, within hours of alcohol ceasing, severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be seen, including: 

  • Convulsions 
  • Anxiety 
  • Auditory and visual hallucinations 
  • Vomiting 
  • Nausea 
  • Shakiness 
  • Insomnia 
  • Heart attack 
  • High blood pressure 
  • Profuse sweating 
  • Insomnia 
  • Heart failure 

Does alcohol consumption affect your blood pressure?

Too much alcohol intake can increase blood pressure to an unhealthy level.  

Consuming more than 3 drinks in one sitting can increase blood pressure temporarily, but repeated alcohol use can cause long-term raises.  

To get a clear idea of how much alcohol intake is too much and how reduction can lower blood pressure, it may be helpful to understand the delineation of extra drinking. 

  • Binge drinking is explained as 4 or more drinks within 2 hours for women and above 5 drinks for men. 
  • Consuming one drink a day for women and 2 drinks for men is considered moderate drinking. 
  • Heavy drinking involves more than 3 drinks for women and 4 drinks for men. 

Heavy drinkers who reduce drinking to a moderate level can reduce their maximum number: a systolic pressure (blood pressure) reading around 5.5 millimetres of mercury and their posterior number (diastolic pressure) around 4 mm Hg.  

If you have high blood pressure and drink too much, you must cut down alcohol and strive for complete alcohol abstinence. For healthy adults, that means up to 1 drink a day for women and 2 drinks a day for men. 

A drink is 12 ounces of beer, 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits, and 5-ounces of wine. Don’t forget that alcohol carries calories and may lead to unwanted weight gain – a risk factor for increased blood pressure.  

Moreover, alcohol can act together with blood pressure medications and affect the medication level in your body or heighten the side effects. 

Researchers are confident that high blood pressure is caused by high alcohol use, but it is reversible if someone stops drinking too much alcohol.

Still, more study is needed to reverse the high blood pressure that happened due to prolonged drinking.  

High blood pressure means when a person’s blood is pulsing through the arteries at extremely high pressure. For normal adults, the blood pressure remains at 120/80 mm Hg.  

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How does alcohol affect blood pressure? 

When a person is habitual of repeated binge drinking, it can cause a temporary rise in blood pressure that usually resolves in 2 or less than 2 hours.  

Before the authentic study and in-depth research, it was believed that moderate drinking was beneficial and could decrease blood pressure.  

However, the latest research has found that both heavy and moderate drinking can lead to spikes in the blood and enhance the risk of more chronic medical conditions over time, meaning surely alcohol affects blood pressure.  

Research conducted in 2019 on 17k USD adults presents that moderate alcohol abuse: 7 to 13 drinks a week, considerably increases the possibility of developing high blood pressure. [1] 

How much can alcohol consumption cause high blood pressure? 

Heavy alcohol drinking and repeated drinking can cause high blood pressure. 

To prevent high blood pressure and its resulting problems and life-threatening symptoms, it is suggested by the American Heart Association that limit alcohol use to not more than 2 drinks a day for men and no more than 1 drink a day for women. [2 

Moderate drinking is usually explained as: 

  • 2 drinks a day for men below 65 years 
  • 1 drink for men above 65 years 
  • 1 drink for women (any age) 

With these proportions of alcohol, a temporary increase will occur in blood pressure, and drinking more than the suggested amount can lead to raised blood pressure levels and raised psychological alcohol dependence.  

It should also be kept in mind that alcohol is loaded with empty calories that provide zero nutritional value and may lead to undesirable weight gain – one more risk factor for high blood pressure.  

Alcohol can also intervene in some blood pressure medications; thus, it is always a great option to talk to your doctor before drinking while starting blood pressure medication. 

Possible reasons for High Blood Pressure 

Anybody can develop high blood pressure, but some are more prone to have this health problem than others. Why is that?  

A huge range of factors impacts your likelihood of developing hypertension and makes you more susceptible to this. Alcohol consumption is one of the most common factors that increase blood pressure. [3 

Other possible reasons can be: 

  • Smoking 
  • Consuming more alcohol 
  • Being older 
  • Family history for high blood pressure 
  • Being obese or overweight 
  • Not consuming enough potassium 
  • Not working out enough 
  • Excess stress 
  • Severe conditions like diabetes 
  • Heart attacks or hypertension-related complications 

As there are so many parameters that can conduce to high blood pressure, around 95% of the time, it is impossible to tell the exact cause of change in blood pressure levels.  

Approximately 75 million adults have been diagnosed with high blood pressure in the US, and 16% of them are associated with alcohol consumption. [4] 

5 levels of blood pressure in chronic alcoholics 

Level – 1: Alcohol use disorder 

Level 1 that is linked to early alcohol withdrawal includes blood pressure from consuming alcohol. This alcohol effect is independent of race, sex, age, and caffeine usage and depends on the amount of alcohol consumed.

At this point, serious lifestyle changes are suggested to regulate blood pressure and resolve the problem. 

Level – 2: Finishing Cold Turkey 

Hypertensive alcoholics experience a sudden drop in blood pressure after they stop consuming more alcohol.

During an addiction treatment or substance abuse treatment, it is crucial to monitor those acute alcoholics’ blood pressure to know when to stop blood pressure medications and avoid hypotensive episodes or how not to develop hypertension again.

Under medical assistance, it is also monitored when a person’s blood pressure falls to fatal levels. 

Level – 3: Consuming alcohol again 

When a person resumes drinking and their blood pressure increases once more, this needs medications to help lower the BP under the observance of healthcare professionals, and the toxic effects of alcohol start to show through liver disease.

During this level, fatty infiltration of the liver develops in 20% of patients who consume above 60 grams of this silent killer (alcohol) daily. [5] 

Level – 4: Dependency 

At this point, an individual is dependent on alcohol. They can’t stop drinking without experiencing acute alcohol withdrawal. There’s a high possibility of liver damage or coronary artery disease, or several mental disorders at this level.  

Around 10-15% of the people who develop fatty liver syndrome turn into cirrhosis (permanent liver damage). [6] 

How long does it take for blood pressure to go down after quitting alcohol? 

When you avoid drinking alcohol for 3-4 weeks, your blood pressure starts to go down.  

Reducing your blood pressure can be essential as it saves you from several health problems that can occur in the future.

When individuals seek medical attention for alcoholism treatment, the withdrawal symptoms usually begin within the first 24 hours of stop drinking.  

Depending on the alcoholics, they might begin from as little as two hours after quitting heavy drinking. At first alcohol withdrawal, symptoms will be mild.  

They may include headaches, sweating, handshakes, and anxiety. The withdrawal symptoms become severe in the next 12-24 hours, and a patient might develop delirium tremens. 

Symptoms could be increasing blood pressure, hallucinations, and seizures. This is a challenging period for anybody who has stopped drinking.  

In the next 48-72 hours, the withdrawal symptoms will reduce, and the person will feel raised blood pressure and sweating.  

After one to four weeks of giving up drinking, most people can expect symptoms to cease; for those with severe withdrawal symptoms/ alcohol withdrawal syndrome or acute physiological alcohol dependence, it is recommended to join a rehab centre under the national health service.  

A whole lot of American addiction centres are offering their services to fight against alcoholism.  

Does alcohol affect blood pressure readings? 

Yes, alcohol affects blood pressure. There have been researches that alcohol can raise blood pressure by 15-20 points.

If you are a hypertensive alcoholic, raising 15-20 points in your blood pressure doubles a person’s risk of stroke, so this specifically fits with things already understood. [7] 

If you have high blood pressure, it is recommended to drink alcohol in moderation or avoid it in the first place. Consumption of alcoholic beverages raises blood pressure to unhealthy levels.  

Having 3+ drinks in one sitting usually raises blood pressure for a particular time, but binge drinking can cause long-term health problems. 

Is high blood pressure due to alcoholism reversible? 

Researchers are confident that high blood pressure because of alcohol drinking lately is reversible if it stops. Still, more research is needed on reversing high blood pressure because of prolonged drinking. [8] 

In a survey, 577 people were screened, and the alcohol use documents were split into two portions, “previous” and “recent” alcohol intake.

People who had consumed alcohol lately significantly raised systolic and diastolic blood pressure measurements. However, people who were using alcohol for years didn’t appear to influence blood pressure. [9] 

Thus, it was concluded that alcohol's effect on blood pressure seems to be predominantly because of the alcohol consumed in the recent days (1,2 or 3) immediately leading coming before or after blood pressure measurement, with alcohol dependence among those who drunk for few days, they showed very little effects on blood pressure.  

Lastly, the idea was formed that the effect of alcohol on blood pressure is reversible. 

Is hypertension a symptom of alcohol withdrawal? 

Yes, hypertension is a strong symptom of alcohol withdrawal. If you consume alcohol for weeks, months, or years, you may experience some really serious health conditions when you cut down on your drinking. Symptoms can vary from meek to serious.  

If you drink once in a blue moon, severe withdrawal symptoms can’t be expected. DTs can be observed in an alcoholic after 48 to 72 hours with delusions and hallucinations.

About 5% of people can have hypertension as a symptom of alcohol withdrawal. [6 

Level by level control of drinking, 4 drinks to 2 drinks and then no drink, is the only effective method to quit drinking and detox. 

Bottom Line 

Excess of everything is bad. Your age and other risk factors linked to alcohol use disorder, mental health, and blood pressure will finally assist your decision with your doctor about drinking.

But you must not think that everything is clear before achieving abstinence.  

Complete abstinence leads to lifelong recovery, and you can prevent alcohol's effects. In this era, you can avail several treatment options to handle your mental health issues associated with alcoholism.  

You can attend meetings organized by local support groups; you can have individual therapy sessions under the supervision of a healthcare professional.

With abstinence and by adding any physical activity in your routine, you can control the increased risk of high or low blood pressure. 

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Last Updated: October 27, 2021

About the author

Peter Szczepanski

Peter has been on the GPhC register for 29 years. He holds a Clinical Diploma in Advanced Clinical Practice and he is a Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Misuse for Abbeycare Gloucester and works as the Clinical Lead in Alcohol and Substance Use in Worcestershire. Find Peter on Respiratory Academy, Aston University graduates, University of Birmingham, Q, Pharmaceutical Journal, the Dudley Pharmaceutical Committee, Dudley Council, Twitter, and LinkedIn.