How Much Alcohol Causes a Stroke?

Heavy Alcohol Use Leads to Stroke

According to a Swedish research study that followed identical twins for 43 years, middle-aged alcohol drinkers who reported drinking heavy amounts of alcohol had a higher incidence of strokes than their non-drinking or lower drinking identical twins. 

Long-term heavy alcohol use increases the risk of strokes by as much as 31%.

The twin study 

The Swedish study that included 11,644 identical twins found that the twin in the pair who recorded heavy drinking, which was defined as more than 2 alcohol-containing drinks per day, had strokes 5 years earlier than their identical twin who recorded light to moderate drinking.

Another large research study was reported in the journal, Stroke. Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill studied 12,433 participants and found that light drinkers had the lowest incidence of stroke compared to moderate drinkers and heavy drinkers. Light drinkers who drank less than 3 alcoholic beverages per week had the same stroke risk as non-drinkers. Moderate drinkers, who said they drank between 4-17 alcohol-containing beverages per week, had the same risk of ischemic stroke as the light drinkers but experienced a higher risk of hemorrhagic stroke, which are typically more life threatening types of strokes. Heavy drinkers had an overall 31% increased risk of stroke compared to non-drinkers and light drinkers.

Why does alcohol increase stroke risk?

One of the major explanations for why substantial alcohol use causes stroke is related to the malnutrition that results from heavy drinking.

Malnutrition resulting from drinking large quantities of alcohol is not just about lack of food. Some alcoholics do, indeed, spend most of the day drinking, neglecting self-care and disregarding proper nutrition.

However, heavy alcohol intake itself interferes with good nutrition, even if you get the right amount of calories, carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals.

The way heavy alcohol use affects the liver and the pancreas makes it all but impossible for you to maintain the nutritional status that your body needs, even if you eat right. The body cannot absorb and metabolize nutrients when heavy, chronic alcohol is in the picture. The resulting condition includes vitamin deficiencies, such as vitamin B12 and folate deficiencies, which alter blood vessel and blood cell function, making them more prone to bleeding, and to forming blood clots.

Does being drunk cause a stroke?

The effect of alcohol on stroke is a long-term effect of heavy alcohol use, not a short-term effect of being drunk or overdoing it with alcohol. There are toxic, life-threatening consequences of alcohol overdose, but a stroke is not typically one of them.

Can alcohol protect against stroke?

Some scientific research points to red wine as one of the ways to protect against stroke. Red wine contains a substance called resveratrol that works as an antioxidant. Antioxidants are safe, natural stroke fighters and disease fighters. Red wine in moderation, as well as other antioxidant rich food and beverages, such as fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish and even chocolate work in collaboration with a healthy lifestyle to help protect against stroke.

Stress management and exercise are important lifestyle habits that can help prevent stroke.

Should you cut back on drinking?

If you are in the moderate drinking range, it may be helpful to cut back. If you are a heavy drinker, drinking more than 2 alcoholic beverages per day, it is definitely in your best interest to cut back gradually. Alcoholism is one of the causes of heavy drinking and it not an easy disease to overcome. You should talk to your doctor about safe and effective ways for you to maintain a healthy relationship with alcohol.


Alcohol consumption at midlife and risk of stroke during 43 years of follow-up: cohort and twin analyses, Kadlecová P, Andel R, Mikulík R, Handing EP, Pedersen NL, Stroke,March 2015

Midlife Alcohol Consumption and the Risk of Stroke in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study, Jones SB, Loehr L, Avery CL, Gottesman RF, Wruck L, Shahar E, Rosamond WD, Stroke, November 2015

Poor nutrition and alcohol consumption are related to high serum homocysteine level at post-stroke, Choi SH, Choi-Kwon S, Kim MS, Kim JS, Nutrition Research and Practice, October 2015

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