Can Drinking Cause A Stroke?

Addressing the frequently asked questions dealing with addiction.

Question:

My mother had a stroke three years ago. With intensive rehabilitation she is now able to function pretty well. She is 60 now, but up until the time of the stroke she drank almost every day. At the most she would have four or five drinks, but regularly. I never saw her drunk. These drinks would always be separated in the most "civil and socially acceptable manner." We were shocked a few weeks ago when a physician friend recommended that she abstain from alcohol. He said her drinking might well have caused her stroke. Is this possible?

Answer:

It is not only possible, but also probable.

Having four or five drinks a day, no matter how socially graceful and acceptable at the Country Club, or any other social setting, is heavy drinking.

The risk of high blood pressure is 50 percent higher in persons drinking three or four drinks a day than in non-drinkers. Hypertension is a major risk factor for cerebro-vascular hemorrhage (stroke), as well as myocardial infarction (heart attack).

The four or five drinks your mother consumed are associated with a fourfold increase in the risk of a hemorrhagic stroke.

This kind of commonly fatal, or always disabling stroke, is much more common in female heavy drinkers than in men who drink an equal amount.

As she now re-enters her world of social functioning it is imperative that she refrain from alcohol. Her risk of suffering another alcohol-related stroke is the same, or maybe even greater, than before.

"Sober Days" ran in the Palm Springs daily newspaper, the Desert Sun, for several years in the 1990s-2000s. The popular Q&A column was written by Dr. James West, the Betty Ford Center's first medical director. He remained with the Betty Ford Center until 2007, when he retired at age 93.

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