Drinking alcohol after a stroke

This page looks at how alcohol can affect you after a stroke, with tips on drinking within safe limits.

Alcohol is part of life for many people. Many of us enjoy a drink as part of a social occasion or a meal, and alcohol is often used as part of celebrations.

Alcohol and stroke risk

Alcohol can increase your risk of having a stroke because it contributes to a number of conditions that are risk factors for stroke.

  • High blood pressure is the most important risk factor for stroke, contributing to around half of all strokes in the UK. Drinking too much alcohol raises your blood pressure.
  • Drinking more than the safe limit can make you more likely to have type 2 diabetes, which is linked to an increased risk of stroke.
  • Being overweight increases your risk of having a stroke. Alcoholic drinks tend to be very high in calories, so regularly drinking lots of alcohol can make it more difficult to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Drinking large amounts of alcohol can trigger atrial fibrillation, a type of irregular heartbeat linked to an increased risk of stroke.

Can I drink alcohol after a stroke?

If you have had a stroke or transient ischaemic attack (TIA or mini-stroke), it’s a good idea to get some individual advice about alcohol. It’s likely that you can drink, but it may be more important to stick within the guidelines for safe levels of drinking.

Reduce your risk of another stroke

Discuss your levels of drinking with your stroke nurse, practice nurse, or GP. If they feel that alcohol could raise your risk of another stroke or TIA, they can give you advice and help you find support to cut down.

Medication

Drinking more than the safe limit, or binge drinking, while on blood-thinning medication can raise your risk of bleeding. Nimodipine is often given after a type of stroke due to bleeding on the brain (a subarachnoid haemorrhage). Drinking alcohol while taking Nimodipine can lead to headaches and dizziness. Some other types of medication can also interact with alcohol, so check with your pharmacist whether you can drink alcohol.

Problem drinking

If you feel that you may be drinking too much or you can’t control your drinking, it’s especially important to talk about it. Help is available through your GP, and there are local alcohol support groups in many areas. If you want to talk to someone about your drinking, contact the free national alcohol helpline Drinkline 0300 123 1110. There is more information about support at nhs.uk/alcohol-support.

Can alcohol protect me against a stroke?

The idea that moderate drinking, such as a glass of red wine a day, could protect you against a stroke or heart attack has been around for some time. But more recently, evidence has started to tell us that the less you drink, the lower the overall risk to your health. So it’s best to stay within the guidelines for safe levels of drinking.

Alcohol and wellbeing after stroke

If you’ve had a stroke, you may be more vulnerable to the negative effects that alcohol can have. 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.

Do I need to cut down?

It’s not always easy to know if you are drinking over the safe level of alcohol. Your usual drinks may contain more units than you realised. Or you might have a few drinks after work every day, adding up to more than you think.

First you need to work out how many units you’re drinking. You can find out by keeping a drinks diary. For a couple of weeks, at the end of each day, make a note of what you drank and count up the units. If you find that you are regularly drinking more than the recommended limit, some of the following tips may help you cut down. Ask your GP for advice, and look for organisations, websites and phone apps that can help you do this. See ‘Other sources’ below for details.

Tips for cutting down

If you’re going out for a drink, you can keep the short-term health risks at a low level with some of our practical tips:

  • Set yourself a daily alcohol limit and stick to it. Work out when you do most of your drinking and see if there are obvious times when you can cut back.

  • Ask for support. Tell your family and friends that you’re cutting down – they can help you reach your goals.

  • Don’t drink on an empty stomach. Eating something slows down the rate that alcohol is absorbed into your bloodstream.

  • Have regular alcohol-free days to avoid becoming dependent on alcohol. Alternate each alcoholic drink with a glass of water or a soft drink. This can help you cut down on the amount of alcohol you’re drinking, and avoid becoming dehydrated.

  • Avoid buying rounds if you're in a group, as this can encourage everyone in the group to drink more.

  • Try alternatives to alcohol, and experiment with flavours. Try using slices of fruit to add extra zing or try non-alcoholic versions of your usual drinks. Look for fruit drinks and alcohol-free wines and beers.

  • Go for smaller sizes such as a bottle of beer instead of a pint, or a smaller glass of wine. A standard pub wine measure is often 175ml, but you can ask for the smaller measure of 125ml. And when you drink at home, try to pour smaller drinks than you would get in a pub or restaurant.

  • Keep a range of non-alcoholic drinks that you like at home, or try making smoothies or non-alcoholic cocktails. Or you could serve drinks that are lower in alcohol, like spritzers, cocktails or fruit punches.

Quick guide to alcohol units

What does 14 units look like?

One unit is 10ml of pure alcohol. Because alcoholic drinks come in different strengths and sizes, it’s not as simple as one drink=one unit.

The weekly limit of 14 units is equivalent to:

  • Six pints of average strength beer.
  • Six 175ml glasses of average strength wine.

To find out how many units are in each drink you have, visit drinkaware.co.uk/tools/unit-and-calorie-calculator.

Information guides

Where to get help and information from the Stroke Association

Helpline
Call us on 0303 3033 100, from a textphone 1800 0303 3033 100
Email: helpline@stroke.org.uk
Our Helpline offers information and support for anyone affected by stroke, including family, friends and carers.

Read our information
Call the Helpline to ask for printed copies of our guides.

Other sources of help and information

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)
Phone: 0800 9177 650
Offers information and support for anyone concerned about their own drinking.

Al-Anon
Phone: 0800 0086 811
Provides information and support for anybody whose life is affected by someone else's drinking.

Alcohol Change UK
An organisation that works to increase the range and quality of services available to people with alcohol-related problems, the website has publications to download and a directory of useful organisations.

Alcohol Focus Scotland
An organisation that promotes responsible drinking and provides information and advice on alcohol-related issues.

Wales Drug and Alcohol Helpline/Cyffuriau ac Alcohol Cymru (Dan 24/7)
Phone: 0808 808 2234
A free, bilingual telephone helpline for anyone in Wales wanting further information and help relating to drugs and/or alcohol. Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Drinkaware
Phone: 0300 123 1110
An organisation that promotes responsible drinking. You can also download the app on Android and iOS, which helps you track the units and calories in your drink and helps you learn more about the health benefits of cutting down.

Drinkline
Phone: 0300 123 1110
The national alcohol helpline.

Disclaimer: The Stroke Association provides the details of other organisations and apps for information only. Inclusion on My Stroke Guide does not constitute a recommendation or endorsement.