Alcohol and Stroke Risk: Effects of Drinking on Stroke Risk

Are drinking alcohol and stroke risk linked? If so, how?

There are two types of stroke or “brain attack.” The most common by far is ischemic stroke. It’s caused by a blood clot in the brain. This blockage starves brain cells of oxygen and kills them.

The other type of stroke is hemorrhagic. It’s caused by a blood leak in the brain. This also kills brain cells. The result of either type is brain impairment or death.


I.   Research Findings

II.  Stroke Facts

III. Symptoms

IV.  Resources

I. Research: Alcohol and Stroke Risk

Researchers wanted to see the effects of drinking on each type. To do so they conducted a meta-analysis. It was to summarize the findings of prospective studies on drinking alcohol and stroke risk. Prospective studies follow people over time to gather strong scientific evidence.

The researchers analyzed the evidence from 27 prospective studies. Their total sample consisted 21,752 stroke patients. There were 18,289 ischemic and 3,463 hemorrhagic stroke cases.

Most of the studies adjusted for major potential confounders. This included such things as age, sex, smoking, weight (body mass index or BMI), and diabetes.

The findings of the 27 prospective studies were clear. “As has been illustrated many times before from studies all over the world. Light and moderate alcohol consumption was inversely associated with ischemic stroke (protective), whereas heavy drinking is associated with increased risk of all stroke types.”1

II. Stroke Facts

alcohol and stroke riskStroke is a very serious disease. It’s the fifth largest cause of death in the US. Stroke kills over 137,000 people in the country every year. That’s about one stroke death every four minutes.

About 795,000 Americans each year suffer a stroke. That’s about one every 40 seconds.

III. Symptoms of Stroke

The American Stroke Association suggests using “FAST” to remember symptoms of stroke. It’s easy.

F – Face Drooping. Is one side of the face drooping? Is a smile uneven?

A – Arm Weakness. Is one arm weak or numb?

S – Speech Difficulty. Is speech suddenly slurred or hard to understand?

T – Time to Call 9-1-1. Call 9-1-1 if one of the symptoms occurs. And call even if the symptom disappears. Also take note of the time when a symptom first appeared. This will help doctors.

Other symptoms can include these.

• Numbness or tingling.
• Weakness on one side of the  body.
• Unsteady gait or unusual walk.
• Severe  headache.
• Loss of vision.

IV. Stroke Risk

Some risk factors can’t be changed. That includes sex, race, heredity and earlier medical history. The good news is that many can be changed.

Having many risk factors doesn’t mean that a person will have a stroke. And a person can have a stroke with no known risk factor. Yet it’s important to know our risk factors. That helps us make informed decisions about the risk factors that we can change.

These stroke risks can’t be changed.

    • Age. The risk with age, especially after age 55.
    • Sex. Women are more likely than men to have a stroke.
    • Family History (Genetics). The chance of stroke increases if biological family members have suffered one.
    • Race. African Americans have a higher risk than whites.
    • Earlier Stroke, Heart Attack, or TIA. Any of these events greatly increases our risk of stroke. A TIA is a Transient Ischemic Stroke. They produce stroke-like symptoms but not permanent damage. Treating these “warning strokes” can reduce our risk of a real stroke.

These stroke risk factors can be changed or treated.

    • Smoking
    • High Blood Pressure
    • Obesity
    • Lack of Exercise
    • Alcohol Abuse. But drinking in moderation is protective.
    • Diabetes
    • Irregular Heartbeat.

V. Resources: Alcohol and Stroke Risk

Popular Books

1. Larsson, S. et al. Differing association of alcohol consumption with different stroke types. A systematic review and meta-analysis. Med, 14, Art No 178.


    • This site gives no advice. Please see a doctor for alcohol and stroke risk concerns.