Does Alcohol Withdrawal Cause High Blood Pressure?

Robert Gerchalk

Robert is our health care professional reviewer of this website. He worked for many years in mental health and substance abuse facilities in Florida, as well as in home health (medical and psychiatric), and took care of people with medical and addictions problems at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. He has a nursing and business/technology degrees from The Johns Hopkins University.

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Does Alcohol Withdrawal Cause High Blood Pressure? 

People who consume alcohol do it for various reasons, such as for relaxation or celebrating an achievement, among many others. However, excessive alcohol use can have adverse health effects, including withdrawal when someone who has become dependent on alcohol suddenly stops drinking.

A rising number of people are interested in learning more about the potential link between alcohol withdrawal and high blood pressure, among the many other health issues it raises. We’ll unravel the connection between alcohol withdrawal and hypertension, revealing the underlying mechanisms that facilitate changes in blood pressure throughout the process of alcohol withdrawal.

Navigating Alcohol Withdrawal

Before delving into the connection between alcohol withdrawal and high blood pressure, you need to understand what happens to the body during alcohol withdrawal. 

Heavy and prolonged alcohol use causes dependence on the substance. The body becomes accustomed to the presence of alcohol and needs it to function properly. When a person reaches this level of dependence and then abruptly stops drinking, withdrawal symptoms are bound to appear.

Anxiety, nausea, tremors, insomnia, and, in extreme situations, hallucinations and seizures can be signs of alcohol withdrawal. These signs indicate the body’s difficulty readjusting to operate in the absence of alcohol. Numerous physiological functions, including cardiovascular functions, are impacted by this shift that the body goes through.

Timeline of Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

While the precise duration for alcohol withdrawal varies from person to person, the following symptoms are generally expected during the detoxification phase:

6–12 Hours after the Last Drink

The first signs of alcohol withdrawal usually appear within six hours after the last drink. They include symptoms such as sweating, nausea, insomnia, vomiting, headaches, abdominal discomfort, and anxiety. Cravings for alcohol, shakiness, or trembling of the hands may also occur.

12–48 Hours

There could be a spike in anxiety, restlessness, and possibly confusion as the symptoms worsen. Elevated blood pressure, a faster heartbeat, and a higher chance of seizures are some examples of the physical symptoms that are experienced during this period.

48–72 Hours

During this time, withdrawal symptoms typically reach their peak. Sometimes, withdrawal can be so severe that it results in delirium tremens. Seizures, extreme disorientation, and hallucinations are also possible symptoms at this point. 

72 Hours

For many people, the symptoms gradually start to recede. However, lack of sleep and psychological issues, such as depression and anxiety, could persist.

One Week to Several Weeks

While psychological symptoms like anxiety and mood swings may continue, physical symptoms continue to improve. Some people still get alcohol cravings during this phase.

Months to a Year

For the majority of people, symptoms subside entirely. However, for those still recovering, they may still struggle with mood swings, anxiety, and sleep disturbances. It is necessary to receive ongoing support and treatment to address these issues and prevent relapse.

The Connection Between Alcohol Withdrawal and High Blood Pressure

Studies have indicated a possible correlation between hypertension and alcohol withdrawal. Acute alcohol consumption is known to have vasodilatory effects, but long-term alcohol consumption can raise sympathetic nervous system activity.

Abruptly withdrawing from alcohol consumption triggers an overactive sympathetic nervous system, which can lead to a series of physiological reactions, including high blood pressure. Factors explaining the connection between alcohol withdrawal and high blood pressure appear below.

Immediate Effects on Blood Pressure

During the acute stage of alcohol withdrawal, sympathetic nervous system activity is frequently elevated. Blood pressure and heart rate may rise due to this increased sympathetic activity. Because alcohol has a depressant effect on the central nervous system, suddenly stopping it can have a rebound effect that causes the sympathetic nervous system to become overactive. 

Impact of Anxiety and Stress

Psychological stress and anxiety are frequently linked to alcohol withdrawal. Blood pressure can rise as a result of these emotional factors. Stress causes the body to go into fight or flight mode, releasing hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, that can cause heart palpitations and constriction of the blood vessels.

Effect on Cardiovascular Health

Consumption of alcohol for an extended period raises the risk of developing cardiovascular illnesses such as hypertension. Prolonged and heavy drinking can cause an individual’s heart and blood vessels to encounter structural changes, which can result in chronically elevated blood pressure. During alcohol withdrawal, these effects can worsen as the body undergoes major physiological changes.

Genetics

Genetic factors may influence a person’s susceptibility to elevated blood pressure during alcohol withdrawal. While some people may experience milder changes, others may have genetic variations that make them more susceptible to the cardiovascular effects of alcohol withdrawal.

Duration and Frequency of Alcohol Consumption

Two critical factors to consider are the amount of alcohol individuals are used to drinking and how long they have been doing it. Heavy and prolonged alcohol consumption increases the risk of physiological changes that may affect blood pressure.

Extended consumption of alcohol can result in long-lasting alterations to the cardiovascular system, which can significantly impact the body’s reaction to withdrawal.

Imbalance of Fluid and Electrolytes

Sweating, diarrhea, and vomiting are common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. These symptoms can lead to electrolyte and fluid imbalances, which can affect blood pressure regulation.

Reduced blood volume from dehydration and electrolyte loss can set off compensatory mechanisms, such as elevated sympathetic activity and the release of antidiuretic hormones to keep blood pressure stable.

Management and Treatment

Effective management of alcohol withdrawal is essential due to the potential cardiovascular risks involved. Therefore, various measures need to be taken.

Professional Supervision

Medical supervision is essential due to the potential risks associated with alcohol withdrawal. Not only is getting professional assistance advised, but it may even save your life. Medical personnel, such as nurses and doctors, can monitor vital signs, give prescriptions, and act quickly in the event of complications.

Gradual Reduction of Alcohol

Suddenly quitting alcohol can cause severe withdrawal symptoms, such as an abrupt rise in blood pressure. Gradual withdrawal is a controlled reduction in alcohol consumption done under medical supervision. This method lessens the severity of withdrawal symptoms by assisting the body in adjusting to the lack of alcohol.

Incorporating Medication

Medications are frequently used to treat the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal and reduce the risks related to hypertension. They include:

  • Benzodiazepines: These are frequently given to treat anxiety, stop seizures, and encourage relaxation. However, the possibility of addiction and other side effects makes these medications something that should only be taken under close medical supervision.
  • Antihypertensive medications: Blood pressure can be regulated, and symptoms like tremors and elevated heart rate can be managed using alpha-blockers and beta-blockers such as propranolol. Beta-blockers work by blocking the effects of adrenaline and lowering blood pressure and heart rate.
  • Clonidine: Another antihypertensive drug that may be used in the context of alcohol withdrawal is clonidine. This drug reduces the activity of the sympathetic nervous system by activating alpha-2 receptors. This has the potential to alleviate certain symptoms linked to alcohol withdrawal and hypertension. Although clonidine can help with alcohol withdrawal, blood pressure should be constantly monitored because severe hypotension (low blood pressure) is a possible side effect. 
  • Acamprosate: This drug is recommended for people who have already attained sobriety. It is taken to lessen the chance of a relapse by stabilizing the balance between excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters in the brain. However, this drug should not be taken as a primary medication for the treatment of acute alcohol withdrawal. It can only be included in a prescription after the client has successfully completed withdrawal.

Inpatient Treatment

People with alcohol use disorder and a high likelihood of experiencing high blood pressure are advised to receive inpatient treatment at a hospital or specialized detoxification facility. Inpatient care offers round-the-clock observation, prompt access to medical care, and a safe, regulated setting for a successful withdrawal process.

Monitoring Blood Pressure Levels

It is necessary to monitor blood pressure regularly during alcohol withdrawal. To keep blood pressure within a safe range, medical professionals will periodically monitor blood pressure levels and alter medication if necessary.

Developing Coping Mechanisms

Creating a methodology for dealing with stress and emotional challenges is important. For instance, find a therapist to talk to during stressful times or join a support group. Therapeutic support is essential for building coping skills and avoiding relapse. Additionally, recognize and avoid people, places, and situations that could trigger the desire to drink.

Nutrition and Hydration

Nutritional deficiencies and dehydration can result from alcohol withdrawal. Sustaining adequate nutrition and hydration is essential to helping the body through the withdrawal phase. For severe dehydration, intravenous fluids may be given, while vitamin supplements and a healthy diet are used as nutritional support.

A well-balanced, nutrient-rich diet is essential for good health and overall well-being. It can aid in the recovery process and restore nutritional deficiencies brought on by long-term alcohol use. Some essential vitamins to include in your diet are:

  • Magnesium: This dietary nutrient can be found in nuts, meats, and leafy vegetables. A number of chronic alcohol users experience hypomagnesemia as a result of insufficient food intake, poor absorption, and alcohol-induced urine losses. Magnesium is also involved in maintaining the homeostasis of other vital electrolytes.
  • Phosphorous: This is a crucial micronutrient commonly found in meats, dairy products, and nuts. Chronic alcohol users frequently have deficiencies in the total amount of phosphorus stored in their bodies as a result of eating insufficient amounts of phosphate-rich foods and, in some cases, outright malnourishment.
  • Thiamine: Thiamine, also known as vitamin B1, is a water-soluble vitamin absorbed in the small intestine through active transport and passive diffusion. It can be found in meats, fish, and whole grains. When ingested, this vitamin is absorbed in the blood, with a small fraction stored in other parts, such as the liver, for a short duration. Thiamine deficiency can occur in people with alcohol use disorder as a result of both decreased hepatic storage and reduced consumption of thiamine-rich foods. Therefore, frequent intake of foods or supplements containing thiamine is necessary because of its short half-life.
  • Folic Acid: Broccoli, leafy vegetables, chickpeas, and fortified grains are good sources of folic acid, also known as vitamin B9. This vitamin is a crucial cofactor in producing amino acids and DNA synthesis. People with alcohol use disorder are deficient in this vitamin through increased renal losses, decreased intestinal absorption, and minimal dietary intake. To aid in successful alcohol withdrawal, consider incorporating healthy amounts of vitamin B9-rich foods in your diet.

Lifestyle Modifications

After the acute withdrawal phase has passed, it is crucial to address lifestyle factors. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help control blood pressure and aid long-term recovery. This can be achieved through:

  • Regular exercise: Exercise can help lower blood pressure and benefit the cardiovascular system. However, it’s a good idea to speak with a medical professional before you begin an exercise regimen, especially in the early phases of recovery.
  • Stress management: High blood pressure can be a result of stress. Include methods for reducing stress, such as yoga, meditation, and mindfulness, to help control blood pressure and stress.

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