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Alcohol affects the blood by acting as an anticoagulant
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You might have heard that red wine can prevent strokes. While some researchers [1]have purported that a moderate amount of alcohol can positively affect the cardiovascular system, there is a low threshold. [2]

Once this threshold is crossed, alcohol use becomes a risk factor for more fatal cardiovascular conditions and addiction.

So, how does alcohol affect your blood? And is drinking alcohol healthy for the heart? And is that glass of wine with dinner that beneficial?

Is Alcohol a Blood Thinner

Alcohol affects the blood by acting as an anticoagulant. [3] Coagulation is when a part of your blood called platelets form clots. Because little alcohol can prevent coagulation, alcohol is considered a blood thinner

what is alcohol?

How Does Alcohol Affect the Cardiovascular System?

Excessive alcohol use can result in high blood pressure, heart failure, heart disease, cardiomyopathy, heart attack, and deadly strokes. 

But wait, doesn’t alcohol reduce your risk of stroke?

Yes and no.

There are different types of strokes: ischemic and hemorrhagic.

Alcohol and Ischemic Strokes

Ischemic strokes occur when blood clots or plaques block blood flow to the brain. When blood cannot reach the brain, brain cells begin to die. 

Moderate amounts of alcohol can prevent clotting, which can thin the blood enough so that blood can get around fatty deposits in the blood vessels

In this way, alcohol can help prevent ischemic strokes.

Alcohol and Hemorrhagic Strokes

Hemorrhagic strokes are life-threatening conditions in which blood vessels in the brain rupture. There are many potential causes of hemorrhagic strokes, including uncontrolled high blood pressure and overuse of blood thinners.

Excessive long-term alcohol intake can raise blood pressure to dangerous levels and lead to this type of stroke. 

Whether or not alcohol can reduce the risk of a stroke depends on the amount of alcohol ingested. 

However, there are far healthier–and more effective ways–to prevent ischemic strokes, and regular alcohol use can lead to addiction. 

How Does Alcohol Thin The Blood?

Alcohol thins the blood by inhibiting bone marrow platelet production

What is Bone Marrow?

Bone marrow is the spongy tissue at the center of most bones. There are two types of bone marrow. Yellow bone marrow and red bone marrow. Yellow marrow stores fat. The red bone marrow contains blood precursors that will become red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.

Heavy drinking  suppresses  blood cell production, reducing platelets, which means thinner blood. [4]

Is Alcohol The Only Thing That Can Thin Your Blood?

Alcohol is not the only substance that can thin your blood. Medications, vitamins, and water intake can influence blood viscosity. 

Anticoagulant medications such as Warfarin(coumadin) or aspirin can have the same effect on the blood as consuming alcohol.

Many foods are used in clot prevention as well. These foods include:

  • Ginger
  • Turmeric
  • Garlic
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Cinnamon
  • Ginkgo biloba
  • Foods rich in vitamin E

Drinking enough water can also keep the blood thin.

Strokes can be fatal. If you think you may be at risk for stroke, do not try to self-medicate with alcohol. Instead, speak with a medical professional about your concerns.  

Can You Drink Alcohol While You Are Taking Blood Thinners?

Consuming alcohol while taking blood-thinning medications such as Warfarin or aspirin can lead to dire consequences. [5]

Alcohol and blood thinners can exacerbate the effects of each one, drastically increasing the risk of bruising, bleeding, and hemorrhagic stroke

If your doctor has prescribed you a blood-thinning medication, it is important to let your doctor know how much alcohol you consume regularly. In addition, if you are a heavy drinker or suspect you may be suffering from alcohol use disorder, speak with your doctor before taking a blood-thinning medication. 

How Can You “Thicken” Your Blood?

Prevention is the best thing you can do to keep your blood from becoming too thin. However, Vitamin K can help “thicken” the blood and acts as an antidote to blood thinners. Foods rich in Vitamin K include:

  • Leafy green vegetables: kale, spinach, turnip greens, lettuce, collard greens, and cabbage
  • Cruciferous vegetables: Brussels sprouts, broccoli
  • Soybean oil and canola oil

If you are experiencing life-threatening side effects of alcohol, seek medical attention immediately. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Alcohol’s Effects on the Blood

Below are some answers to common questions about the effects of alcohol on the cardiovascular system.

Can Alcohol Cause Bleeding?

Because alcohol can reduce the blood’s clotting mechanisms, consuming alcohol can increase the risk of bleeding. This means that something as simple as bumping into a table can result in serious bruising, or a laceration can result in a dangerous amount of blood loss. 

Lack of clotting can also result in internal bleeding, [6] which can be fatal if not treated immediately.

Signs of internal bleeding include:

  • Altered mental state
  • Sweaty, clammy skin
  • Swollen or tight abdomen
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Blood in the feces
  • Excessive thirst
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Sudden vision changes or loss of focus
  • Unconsciousness
  • Low blood pressure (later stages)
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased respiratory rate
  • Loss of balance or coordination

If you are experiencing symptoms or internal bleeding, seek medical attention immediately and let the medical personnel know how much alcohol you consume regularly and when you consumed your last drink.

Besides Thinning the Blood, What Are The Other Consequences Of Drinking Alcohol?

There are both short-term and long-term consequences of drinking alcohol.

Beyond thinning the blood and increased risk for stroke, some of the short-term effects of alcohol use include:

  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Poor emotional control
  • Slurred speech
  • Unconsciousness
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Poor vision 
  • Poor motor control
  • Alcohol-induced psychosis
  • Reduced executive function
  • Poor decision making

The long-term effects of alcohol go far beyond the cardiovascular system. Other long-term effects include: 

  • Liver disease
  • Gastrointestinal conditions
  • Weakened immune system
  • Bone marrow damage
  • Memory problems
  • Learning problems
  • Cancers of the liver, colon and rectum, mouth, throat, esophagus, and breast
  • Personal and relational problems, including poor interpersonal relationships, divorce, unemployment, and financial problems
  • Alcohol use disorders and dependence

Can You Quit Drinking Alcohol Cold Turkey?

If your body is accustomed to heavy alcohol use, it can be dangerous to quit drinking without medical advice and supervision. If you or a loved one suspects you are suffering from alcohol use disorder, call and speak with an alcohol addiction treatment center as soon as possible. 

Do You Need to Detox Before Entering An Alcohol Addiction Treatment Program?

The sweeping majority of alcohol treatment centers will require participants to enter into treatment alcohol and substance-free. Entering into treatment while still actively using means that you will not be able to participate in your recovery actively and can trigger other participants in your program.

Detoxing before rehab allows you to begin treatment with a clearer mind and not be distracted by the physical symptoms of withdrawal. Entering treatment alcohol-free allows you to focus solely on your recovery.

Is Inpatient Treatment or Outpatient Treatment Better for Alcohol Use Disorder Recovery?

The level of care for you depends on your physical, emotional, and mental condition. 

Some individuals struggling with alcohol addiction do better in an outpatient environment where they can attend therapy during the day and go home in the evenings. Others, however, feel more supported in an inpatient environment, especially when there are alcohol-related physical ailments you are healing from, such as uncontrolled, dangerously high blood pressure.

An admissions counselor will help determine the right level of care for you. 

It’s Never too Late to Get Help With an Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol use disorder doesn’t just thin your blood and put you at higher risk for cardiovascular conditions–it affects your entire life. If you or a loved one are suffering from the effects of alcohol abuse, treatment options are available.

Call and speak with a member of our admissions team and find out how we can help you overcome alcohol addiction and get your life back on the right track. 

Sources:

  1. Alcohol misuse, genetics, and major bleeding among warfarin therapy patients in a community setting. (2015, April 8). NCBI. Retrieved November 30, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4478047/
  2. He, J. (n.d.). Alcohol consumption and risk of stroke: a meta-analysis. PubMed. Retrieved November 30, 2022, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12578491/

Medical Content Writer

Amanda Stevens, B.S.

Amanda is a prolific medical content writer specializing in eating disorders and addiction treatment. She graduated Magnum Cum Laude from Purdue University with a B.S. in Social Work. As a person in recovery from disordered eating, she is passionate about seeing people heal and transform. She writes for popular treatment centers such as Ocean Recovery, Epiphany Wellness, The Heights Treatment, Infinite Recovery, New Waters Recovery and adolescent mental health treatment center BasePoint Academy. In her spare time she loves learning about health, nutrition, meditation, spiritual practices, and enjoys being the a mother of a beautiful daughter.

Last medically reviewed January 10, 2023