Blood Pressure*

According to 2000 Statistics Canada figures, over 869,000 women and over 539,000 men aged 65 and over in Canada have high blood pressure. One of the factors that can lead to high blood pressure is drinking.

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada

"Excessive drinking may damage the heart and increase the risk of rhythm disturbances. When used to excess, alcohol can raise the levels of some kinds of fats in the blood, raise blood pressure and cause heart failure. Constant excessive drinking and binge drinking have been associated with stroke."

The Heart and Stroke Foundation points out that these lifestyle changes can help reduce a person's blood pressure:

Two very important factors for middle aged women developing high blood pressure are: calories and alcohol.

What is Normal Blood Pressure?

Normal blood pressure is less than 130 mmHg systolic and less than 85 mmHg diastolic (130/85 or lower). Doctors will say your blood pressure is too high when it measures 140/90 mmHg or higher over time.

People who have blood pressure in the range of 130-139/85-89 mmHg may be at risk of developing high blood pressure.

The medical advice that is generally given:

If your blood pressure measures in this range, you should think about making changes in your lifestyle such reducing your drinking to improve your blood pressure.


To What Extent Does Alcohol Lead to High Blood Pressure

Whether it is consumed occasionally or regularly, alcohol raises a person's  blood pressure. The extent of the effect depends on how much the person drinks.

For people who regularly drink more than 30g of alcohol per day (2 1/4 standard drinks),  the risk of having high blood pressure of more than 160/95 mm Hg is more than double that of non-drinkers.

For about 7-11% of all people who have raised blood pressure but it is under 160/95 mm Hg, the higher blood pressure is due to their level of drinking. It has been suggested that the percentage of mild hypertension cases due to alcohol is possibly even higher, since regular drinkers often either underestimate their alcohol consumption or do not admit to it.


Cutting Down on Alcohol Improves High Blood Pressure

In a 2001 study, researchers (Xin, et al.) looked at what happened  to people's blood pressure when they reduced their alcohol consumption. Reviewing 15 controlled clinical trials involving more than 2,200 people, they found:

The researchers recommend that alcohol reduction should be an important component of lifestyle modification for the prevention and treatment of hypertension among heavy drinkers.

If a person consumes no more alcohol, the effect of the alcohol on the raised blood pressure is fully reversible within several days to several weeks.

[Note of caution to older adults: If you are a heavy drinker, cut down bit by bit, do not stop drinking abruptly. You can experience serious alcohol withdrawal symptoms].

Binge drinking (e.g., saving all your drinking for the weekend) is particularly bad for blood pressure. (Marques-Vidal et al)

What Are Some Things Commonly Done by Physicians if High Blood Pressure (BP) is a Problem?

1. A doctor will identify the blood pressure problem, and usually will continue to re-assess the situation, looking at the older person's BP, medications and weight (for salt and water retention).

2.  If an older person still has high blood pressure or even borderline BP three to six months after detoxification, the doctor may suggest cutting back on salt or using a diuretic, to see if that helps improve the blood pressure.

3. Calcium and magnesium depletion are also common during drinking, especially if the person has not been eating properly. In some cases, it may be important to add a calcium/magnesium supplement. Calcium/magnesium depletion can also result in increased blood pressure.


Alcohol and Blood Pressure Medications

The National Consumer League in the United States points out that alcohol interacts with several high blood pressure medications, including these:


Beta blockers decrease the nerve impulses to the heart and blood vessels. This decreases the heart rate and the work load of the heart. Some examples of beta blockers are:

atenolol/ TENORMIN

metoprolol/ LOPRESSOR

propranolol/ INDERAL

nadolol/ CORGARD

Interaction of Alcohol with Beta Blockers: People should avoid drinking alcohol with propranolol/ INDERAL because the combination can lower their blood pressure too much.

AADAC notes that alcohol can also decreases the availability of the INDERAL. In other words, there isn't enough of the medication for the body to decrease the blood pressure properly.



Nitrates relax blood vessels and lower the demand for oxygen by the heart.

Some examples are:

isosorbide dinitrate/ ISORDIL,SORBITRATE


Interaction of Alcohol with Nitrates: People taking these nitrates should avoid alcohol because it may add to the blood vessel-relaxing effect of nitrates and can result in dangerously low blood pressure.

The severity of the drug - alcohol interactions increases with the amount of alcohol that a person drinks. In all cases, the alcohol-drug interaction has the potential to be fatal.

Public Education: If you are a service provider looking for a good handout on high blood pressure that includes specific reference to alcohol matters, you may want to consider this one by the American Heart Association. Useful for health fairs and community presentations: "How Can I Reduce High Blood Pressure?"


References and Resources


Ascherio A., Rimm, E.B., Giovannucci, E.L., Colditz, G.A., Rosner, B., Willett, W.C., Sacks, F.& Stampfer, P. (1996). Prospective study of nutritional factors, blood pressure, and hypertension among US women. Hypertension, 27,1065-72.

Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada:


Marques-Vidal, P., Arveiler, D., Evans, A., Amouyel, P., Ferrieres, J., & Ducimetiere, P. (December, 2001). Different alcohol drinking and blood pressure relationships in France and Northern Ireland. Hypertension, 38,136-1366.

National Consumer League. Food and Drug Interactions

Statistics Canada. Health determinants: high blood pressure.

Wannamethee, S.G., & Shaper, A.G. (January, 2002) Taking up regular drinking in middle age: effect on major coronary heart disease events and mortality. Heart, 87,32-36.

Wannamethee, G. & Shaper, A.G. (1992). Alcohol and sudden cardiac death. British Heart Journal, 68(5),443-448.

Wannamethee, G. & Shaper, A.G. (1991). Alcohol intake and variations in blood pressure by day of examination. Journal of Human Hypertension, 5(2), 59-67.

Xin X., He, J., Frontini, M.G., Ogden, L.G.; Motsamai, O.I.& Whelton, P.K.. (November, 2001) Effects of alcohol reduction on blood pressure. Hypertension, 38, 1112-1117.


* This  page contains general information and is not medical advice. Consult your doctor.


Page last updated: 2004-12-14

Return to

 Alcohol and Seniors Home Page