Drinking alcohol after a stroke

Read our tips and guidance on drinking within safe limits and managing your alcohol intake after a stroke. For direct advice, speak to your GP.

Can drinking alcohol increase my risk of stroke?

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.

But alcohol can increase your risk of stroke, even if you don’t drink very large amounts. And if you’ve had a stroke, alcohol could increase your risk of another stroke.

Guidelines on safe levels of drinking

The UK government guidelines advise that to keep your risk low, you are safest not to regularly drink more than 14 units per week. If you do drink as much as 14 units per week, it is best to spread this evenly across the week. This limit is the same for men and women.

Alcohol and stroke risk factors

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

  1. High blood pressure is the most important risk factor for stroke, contributing to over 50% of all strokes in the UK. Drinking too much alcohol raises your blood pressure.
  2. Diabetes almost doubles your risk of stroke. Drinking more than the safe limit raises your risk of getting type 2 diabetes.
  3. 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.
  4. Drinking large amounts of alcohol can trigger atrial fibrillation, a type of irregular heartbeat linked to an increased risk of stroke.
  5. 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 a stroke caused by bleeding in your brain.

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 guidance 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 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.

Alcohol and medication

Drinking more than the safe limit, or binge drinking, while blood-thinning medication can raise your risk of bleeding. Check with your pharmacist whether you can drink.

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.

Staying in control

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.

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 on the NHS website.

Tips for cutting down

When it comes to single drinking occasions, you can keep the short-term health risks at a low level by sticking to a few simple rules:

  • 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.

  • 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 small glass of wine instead of a large. And when you drink at home, try to pour smaller drinks than you would get in a pub or restaurant.

  • Many people like to drink because it helps them relax. So try to find other things that will help you do this such as exercising, relaxation sessions or complementary therapies.

Information

Other resources

Stroke Association
Helpline: 0303 3033 100
Email: helpline@stroke.org.uk
Contact us for information about stroke, emotional support and details of local services and support groups.

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.

Down Your Drink
This website has been developed by a team at University College London and is endorsed by Alcohol Concern. It allows users to work out whether they are drinking too much and, if so, provides tips on what they can do to change this.

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.

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