The Dangers of Alcohol Use for Stroke Victims | Alcohol.org (2022)

A stroke occurs when blood flow to an area of the brain is cut off. The clinical term used for stroke is cerebral vascular accident (CVA). In some cases, lay sources may refer to a stroke as a brain attack. The term stroke originates from the observation that individuals who suffered CVAs often develop very immediate and sudden symptoms as if they were struck down.

The effects of a stroke depend on the area of the brain where the CVA occurs, how extensive the damage is, and other factors, such as an individual’s overall level of health. According to the National Stroke Association:

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  • Approximately 800,000 people have a new CVA or a repeat CVA every year.
  • CVAs are the fifth leading cause of death in the United States.
  • CVAs are one of the leading causes of disability in the US.
  • Nearly two-thirds of individuals who suffer CVA will have some form of disability.
  • As many as 80 percent of CVAs can be prevented.

Types of CVAs (Strokes)

According to the book The Everything Guide to the Human Brain, there are two major forms of CVA.

  • A hemorrhagic CVA occurs when there is a weakened vessel that breaks or a leak in a vessel in the brain. This is the least common type of CVA, but the one that is most often fatal. Interestingly, people who survive a hemorrhagic CVA often have a better prognosis than individuals who develop a CVA from the other major cause.
  • An ischemic CVA occurs as a result of blockage in a vein or artery (ischemia), and tissue surrounding the main or artery dies. This form of stroke is often a chronic condition that develops over time, resulting in permanent damage. There are two major conditions that can cause an ischemic CVA.
  • An embolic CVA occurs when a clot or fragments of plaque formed in another area of the body (most often, in the heart) break, often traveling in the brain. Once they reach the brain, they block the smaller vessels there, and this results in tissue damage and CVA.
  • A thrombotic CVA is caused by a blood clot that forms at the site it blocks. Large vein thrombosis occurs in the brain’s larger arteries, and small vein thrombosis occurs in smaller veins and arteries.

Individuals may have also heard the term silent strokes, mini strokes, or TIAs. These terms are often used to refer to the same situation. A TIA (transient ischemic attack) is a result of blockage of blood flow to the brain that only develops for short period of time (typically 24 hours or less) and produces stroke-like symptoms. People who have multiple TIAs are at risk for later having major CVAs.

The effects of the CVA depend on the area of the brain affected and the extent of the damage the stroke has inflicted. In some cases, people may have problems with movement on the side of the body opposite to the side of the brain where the stroke occurred. In other cases, people may have significant problems with thinking, including problems with memory, attention, language, etc., in addition to issues with movement. In some instances, people may have few or no physical problems but significant cognitive issues.

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Recovery from a stroke is quite variable from individual to individual, but does depend on the area of the brain where the damage occurs and the extent of the damage. Obviously, strokes that affect numerous areas of the brain and lead to extensive damage have the worst prognosis. Nonetheless, the use of medical treatments and cognitive and physical rehabilitation can be effective in helping an individual recover from a CVA, particularly if these interventions are implemented as quickly as possible after the individual has suffered a stroke. However, the best treatment for a CVA is prevention.

The Risks of Stroke from Drinking Alcohol

According to the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (NIAAA), some studies suggest that light to moderate alcohol use may decrease the risk for CVA; however, other studies suggest that light to moderate alcohol use may increase the risk for CVA. Likewise, reports in the media vastly differ, with some saying that alcohol use in moderation is a protective factor and others saying that alcohol use in moderation is a risk factor for the development of a CVA.

Despite the contradictions in research, most medical professionals take the stance that the use of alcohol to prevent cardiovascular problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and the potential for a stroke, is not a sound practice. Per the American Heart Association (AHA), for a very select number of individuals with no significant pre-existing risk factors (e.g., genetic risk factors, metabolic risk factors, etc.), light to moderate alcohol use may decrease their risk of developing a stroke; however, it is far more likely that regular use of alcohol contributes to an increased risk for the development of stroke in the general population. AHA advises against using alcohol is an attempt to decrease the risk of heart attack or stroke. In addition, anyone who already has pre-existing heart disease or has suffered a stroke in the past should abstain from alcohol completely.

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Treating Individuals Who Have Experienced a Stroke and Have an Alcohol Use Disorder

Risk factors associated with an increased probability to develop a CVA are the same risk factors that are associated with increased risk to develop any type of cardiovascular disease or disorder. These include dietary factors, lifestyle factors, genetics (family history), substance abuse, and other potential environmental interactions, such as exposure to toxins.

The research is very clear that heavy use of alcohol is a significant risk factor for numerous cardiovascular issues, including the potential to develop a CVA. Any individual who is diagnosed with any level of an alcohol use disorder, according to the specifications designated in the DSM-5, is at an increased risk to develop cardiovascular problems, which include an increased risk to develop a CVA.

The diagnostic criteria used by APA to diagnose alcohol use disorders include several general factors.

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  • The person’s alcohol use results in significant distress or dysfunction in their daily life.
  • The person often demonstrates numerous issues controlling their use of alcohol. These issues are specified by several specific diagnostic criteria within the DSM-5.
  • The person continues to use alcohol despite problems associated with such use.
  • The person displays the symptoms of physical dependence on alcohol (developing tolerance to alcohol, or both tolerance and withdrawal symptoms).

APA allows for a diagnosis of an alcohol use disorder that is either mild, moderate, or severe, depending on the number of symptoms the person displays within a 12-month period. Even though individuals with a diagnosis of a mild alcohol use disorder have fewer symptoms than those in the other two categories, the diagnosis of a substance use disorder represents a dysfunctional situation and would not qualify under the normal designation of mild to moderate alcohol use. Thus, a person diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder at any level of severity is experiencing significant distress, dysfunction, and an increased potential to develop serious medical issues, including vascular issues that can lead to a CVA.

The approach to treating a person who has experienced a CVA of any type and who has been diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder would include:

  • Ensuring that the person attempts to become abstinent from alcohol
  • Using standard treatment protocols for addressing the individual’s issues with their CVA
  • If possible, attempting to implement dietary and lifestyle changes that can reduce the risk for recurrent CVAs
  • Continued monitoring of the individual’s physical and mental health

The person would be treated for both their alcohol use disorder and the CVA concurrently. Individuals who have moderate to severe alcohol use disorders are at significant risk for severe withdrawal symptoms that can exacerbate the symptoms associated with their CVA and even increase the risk that they will develop another CVA. These individuals may develop seizures at a higher rate than individuals who not have a pre-existing history of CVA. Inpatient physician-assisted withdrawal management treatment is necessary as a first step for these individuals.

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The protocol to address the alcohol use disorder will typically follow the standard protocol used in the treatment of alcohol use disorders, with the addition of treatment for the individual’s CVA and the implementation of other lifestyle changes, medicines, and therapies associated with recovery from both conditions. Individuals who have alcohol use disorders and use tobacco products are at an even higher risk for the development of stroke than individuals who abuse either of these substances singularly. Treatment approaches for these individuals would attempt to ensure abstinence from both alcohol and tobacco, and incorporate extended treatment protocols for the CVA.

The outlook for individuals with comorbid alcohol use disorders and stroke is quite variable. When there is extensive damage due to the results of a CVA, the prognosis may be guarded at best. In many instances, individuals who experience CVAs begin to also experience significant symptoms of depression or anxiety, which can complicate treatment and result in the need for further interventions. In other instances, there may be significant cognitive dysfunction associated with the person’s CVA that may result in significant alterations to formal treatment protocols.

The primary goal of reducing the potential for recurrent CVAs in an individual who has an alcohol use disorder is to immediately get them to abstain from alcohol use. Because relapse is common in individuals with alcohol use disorders, this puts significant pressure on treatment providers. Using techniques like the Motivational Interviewing approach and other cognitive-behavioral techniques may be useful for individuals with cognitive damage in order to help them understand the severity of their issues; however, cognitive-behavioral approaches become less useful when individuals have significant cognitive impairments that result in substantial difficulties with attention, memory, or understanding language. Instead, strict behavioral approaches, or complete control over the person’s choices by family and medical professionals, are often implemented in treatment of individuals who have severe cognitive dysfunction as a result of their CVA.

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FAQs

How does alcohol affect stroke victims? ›

Stroke impacts

Drinking alcohol can increase the impact of changes to speech, thinking, vision and balance caused by your stroke. If fatigue is an issue for you, alcohol may make it worse. A healthy lifestyle helps you make a good recovery from stroke: Be active.

Why is alcoholism a risk factor for stroke? ›

Liver damage due to too much alcohol can stop the liver from making substances that help your blood to clot. This can increase your risk of having a stroke caused by bleeding in your brain.

How much alcohol can you drink after a stroke? ›

If you have had a hemorrhagic stroke, you must not drink alcohol for at least three weeks after your stroke.

What are 3 dangers of long term alcohol use? ›

Long-Term Health Risks. Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of chronic diseases and other serious problems including: High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive problems.

What should you not drink after a stroke? ›

If you're sleeping badly, have poor balance or speech problems, alcohol could make these worse. Alcohol can also worsen mood swings and depression, which are common after stroke. It can also affect your memory and thinking. Alcohol makes you dehydrated, and this can make headaches worse.

Can alcohol trigger a stroke? ›

Regularly drinking too much alcohol raises your risk of a stroke. Alcohol contributes to a number of conditions that can increase your risk of stroke, so it's important that you don't drink more than the recommended limit on a regular basis.

What type of stroke does alcohol cause? ›

Alcohol may increase the risk of hemorrhagic stroke

The meta-analysis looked at two different types of stroke: ischemic and hemorrhagic. Ischemic stroke is the most common type of stroke.

What are the 4 risk factors for alcoholism? ›

Risk factors for alcohol use disorder include:
  • Steady drinking over time. ...
  • Starting at an early age. ...
  • Family history. ...
  • Depression and other mental health problems. ...
  • History of trauma. ...
  • Having bariatric surgery. ...
  • Social and cultural factors.
18 May 2022

What are three 3 risk factors for a having stroke? ›

Risk factors for stroke that can be changed, treated, or medically managed:
  • High blood pressure. ...
  • Heart disease. ...
  • Diabetes. ...
  • Smoking. ...
  • Birth control pills (oral contraceptives)
  • History of TIAs (transient ischemic attacks). ...
  • High red blood cell count. ...
  • High blood cholesterol and lipids.

What is the largest risk factor for stroke? ›

High blood pressure is the leading cause of stroke and is the main cause for increased risk of stroke among people with diabetes.

Which alcohol is good for stroke? ›

Some studies have linked red wine to lower stroke risk because of certain chemicals that are found in this type of alcohol. One key substance in red wine is called resveratrol . It has been shown to cause chemical changes in the body that can help reduce the risk of stroke.

Can alcohol cause a brain bleed? ›

Chronic alcoholics have decreased concentrations of liver-produced coagulation factors and platelet abnormalities that predispose them to hemorrhagic stroke.

What are 3 long-term effects of drinking on your brain and body? ›

Long-Term Effects of Alcohol on the Brain

Long-term health risks of chronic alcohol use include heart, liver and digestion problems, cancer, immune system weakening as well as mood and sleep disturbances, and the development of other mental health problems, including depression and anxiety.

How much alcohol is harmful long-term? ›

For healthy men and women to reduce the risk of alcohol-related disease over the lifetime, health experts recommend drinking no more than 10 standard drinks a week.

What happens if you drink alcohol everyday for a month? ›

Daily alcohol use can cause fibrosis or scarring of the liver tissue. It can also cause alcoholic hepatitis, which is an inflammation of the liver. With long-term alcohol abuse, these conditions occur together and can eventually lead to liver failure.

Why can't you drink water after a stroke? ›

Difficulty with swallowing (or dysphagia) happens after a stroke because the brain doesn't activate muscle reflexes at the back of the throat quickly enough, so that food or liquids pass down the throat into the larynx and/or lungs - in other words they can 'go down the wrong way'.

What helps stroke patients recover faster? ›

How to Increase the Chance of Fast Stroke Recovery
  • Don't Overdo Physical Activity. Exercise is crucial because it increases the flow of blood and oxygen throughout the brain. ...
  • Follow a Healthy Diet. Creating more neurons is the key to quick stroke recovery. ...
  • Get Plenty of Rest. ...
  • Use Respite Care.
17 Jul 2019

What should stroke patients not do? ›

Do not drive yourself or someone else to the emergency room. It might seem like a good idea to drive a stroke victim to the nearest emergency room. But Dr. Humbert says, “If someone is severely affected by a stroke, then you're better off calling 911.”

Can I drink alcohol while on blood thinners? ›

Mixing alcohol and blood thinners is never recommended. In fact, most blood-thinning medications will specifically advise against mixing them with alcohol. Blood thinners can be dangerous, increasing your risk of severe bleeding during an accident or with an injury.

Can too much alcohol cause stroke like symptoms? ›

One of the conditions that may mimic stroke is acute alcohol intoxication. Specifically, alcohol intoxication results in symptoms very similar to vertebrobasilar ischemia [7, 8], therefore the simultaneous occurrence of vertebrobasilar stroke and alcohol intoxication may result in the misdiagnosis of stroke.

What are the symptoms of drinking too much alcohol? ›

Symptoms of alcohol overdose include mental confusion, difficulty remaining conscious, vomiting, seizure, trouble breathing, slow heart rate, clammy skin, dulled responses such as no gag reflex (which prevents choking), and extremely low body temperature. Alcohol overdose can lead to permanent brain damage or death.

Who is most at risk of alcohol? ›

Age Factors

Individuals in their early to mid-twenties are the most likely to abuse alcohol and suffer from alcohol use disorders. The younger that an individual starts consuming alcohol, the more likely they are to develop alcoholism later in life. This is especially true of individuals who start drinking before 15.

What is high risk drinking? ›

NIAAA defines heavy drinking as follows: For men, consuming more than 4 drinks on any day or more than 14 drinks per week. For women, consuming more than 3 drinks on any day or more than 7 drinks per week.

How many years do stroke patients live? ›

A 2021 study found that about 66% of stroke victims survived past the three-year mark. 7 Survival factors included: The person's age. Their overall health.

Can stress cause strokes? ›

Stress can cause the heart to work harder, increase blood pressure, and increase sugar and fat levels in the blood. These things, in turn, can increase the risk of clots forming and travelling to the heart or brain, causing a heart attack or stroke.

Is second stroke worse than first? ›

There are significant cognitive and physical disabilities in the second recurrent ischemic stroke as compared to the first-ever one, and the second stroke tend to be more dangerous and carry more disability.

Can you have a stroke in your sleep? ›

Background It is reported that 13% to 44% of all cerebrovascular accidents (CVAs) occur during sleep. In addition to other well-known risk factors, snoring, sleep apnea, obesity, and daytime sleepiness have been shown to significantly increase the risk of stroke.

What are 6 foods that prevent stroke? ›

Here are some of the best foods that help prevent stroke:
  • Oatmeal (for whole grains) ...
  • Yogurt (for probiotics) ...
  • Dry Beans (for fiber) ...
  • Onions (for antioxidants) ...
  • Flaxseeds (for fatty acids) ...
  • Red wine (for antioxidants) ...
  • Salmon (for vitamin D)
18 Aug 2020

What were your first signs of a brain bleed? ›

Brain bleed symptoms may include:
  • Sudden or severe headache.
  • Weakness, tingling or numbness in the arms or legs (often on one side)
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Changes in vision.
  • Changes in balance.
  • Difficulty speaking or understanding speech.
  • Difficulty using fine motor skills.
  • Seizures.

When do brain bleed symptoms start? ›

Signs and symptoms take time to develop, sometimes days or weeks after the injury. Chronic. The result of less severe head injuries, this type of hematoma can cause slow bleeding, and symptoms can take weeks and even months to appear.

Does alcohol destroy brain cells? ›

Alcohol does kill brain cells. Some of those cells can be regenerated over time. In the meantime, the existing nerve cells branch out to compensate for the lost functions. This damage may be permanent.

What happens to your brain when you drink alcohol everyday? ›

Alcohol makes it harder for the brain areas controlling balance, memory, speech, and judgment to do their jobs, resulting in a higher likelihood of injuries and other negative outcomes. Long-term, heavy drinking causes alterations in the neurons, such as reductions in their size.

What are 5 effects of alcohol on the brain? ›

Difficulty walking, blurred vision, slurred speech, slowed reaction times, impaired memory: Clearly, alcohol affects the brain.

Does alcohol mess with your brain permanently? ›

Alcohol-related brain damage

Drinking heavily over a long period of time can cause long-lasting or permanent changes to the brain. The symptoms of alcohol-related brain damage include: poor memory. difficulties with new learning.

What is considered a heavy drinker? ›

For men, heavy drinking is typically defined as consuming 15 drinks or more per week. For women, heavy drinking is typically defined as consuming 8 drinks or more per week.

What part of the brain is affected by alcohol first? ›

What is the First Brain Function Affected by Alcohol? The first area compromised is the Cerebral Cortex, which causes confusion and lowers inhibitions.

Can you live long if you drink alcohol? ›

Previous research suggests that people drinking alcohol in moderation live longer than those who do not consume it. Another, older study concludes that men who drink moderate amounts of alcohol have a higher life expectancy than individuals who drink alcohol occasionally or heavily.

Is it OK to drink alcohol every night? ›

Should I be concerned? ANSWER: Occasional beer or wine with dinner, or a drink in the evening, is not a health problem for most people. When drinking becomes a daily activity, though, it may represent progression of your consumption and place you at increased health risks.

Is a bottle of wine a day too much? ›

Drinking a bottle of wine per day is not considered healthy by most standards. However, when does it morph from a regular, innocent occurrence into alcohol use disorder (AUD) or alcoholism? First, it's important to note that building tolerance in order to drink an entire bottle of wine is a definitive red flag.

Which alcohol is good for health? ›

Red wine appears to be particularly beneficial because it is very high in healthy antioxidants. In fact, red wine is linked to more health benefits than any other alcoholic beverage ( 74 , 75 , 76 , 77 , 78 ).

What heals the brain after a stroke? ›

The initial recovery following stroke is most likely due to decreased swelling of brain tissue, removal of toxins from the brain, and improvement in the circulation of blood in the brain. Cells damaged, but not beyond repair, will begin to heal and function more normally.

How much can you drink after a stroke? ›

If you have had a hemorrhagic stroke, you must not drink alcohol for at least three weeks after your stroke.

Do people ever recover fully from a stroke? ›

Recovery time after a stroke is different for everyone—it can take weeks, months, or even years. Some people recover fully, but others have long-term or lifelong disabilities. Learn more about stroke rehabilitation from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Can you drink alcohol after a stroke? ›

Drinking alcohol can increase your risk of having another stroke. Alcohol can increase the impact of changes to speech, thinking, vision and balance caused by your stroke. If fatigue is an issue for you, alcohol may make it worse. Alcohol can interfere with some medicines.

How likely is a second stroke? ›

Even after surviving a stroke, you're not out of the woods, since having one makes it a lot more likely that you'll have another. In fact, of the 795,000 Americans who will have a first stroke this year, 23 percent will suffer a second stroke.

Is sleep good for stroke recovery? ›

Sleep is critical, but sleep problems may follow after a stroke. Poor sleep can slow your recovery and lead to depression, memory problems and night-time falls. The good news is there are ways to improve your sleep.

Why do stroke patients sleep so much? ›

While the brain normally uses 20% of your total energy, that percentage increases during stroke recovery. This means the brain has less energy left to keep you alert and awake. Aside from helping the brain heal, deep sleep also offers other, fantastic benefits to stroke survivors.

Can post stroke patients drink coffee? ›

In moderation, says UCLA neurologist Jeffrey L. Saver, caffeine intake is fine for patients who have suffered a stroke.

Is it safe to drink after a stroke? ›

Drinking alcohol can increase your risk of having another stroke. Alcohol can increase the impact of changes to speech, thinking, vision and balance caused by your stroke. If fatigue is an issue for you, alcohol may make it worse. Alcohol can interfere with some medicines.

What should I eat and drink after a stroke? ›

Here are some tips for what to eat and what to avoid to help you recover from a stroke.
  • Eat Whole, Mostly Plant-Based Foods and Lots of Veggies.
  • Avoid Processed Foods, Salt, and Sugar.
  • Eat More Legumes.
  • Eat Fish and Poultry Instead of Red Meat.
  • Avoid Saturated Fat and Snack on Seeds and Nuts.
30 Jun 2020

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