Heavy drinkers have a higher risk of having a stroke earlier in life than other people, researchers from the University of Lille Nord de France in Lille, France, reported in the journal Neurology.

The authors wrote that the risk of stroke 14 years earlier than expected among people who consume at least three alcoholic beverages per day is considerably higher among regular heavy drinkers.

Why exactly heavy drinking increases early stroke risk is still unclear, the scientists wrote.

Team leader, Charlotte Cordonnier, MD, PhD, said:

“Heavy drinking has been consistently identified as a risk factor for this type of stroke, which is caused by bleeding in the brain rather than a blood clot.

Our study focuses on the effects of heavy alcohol use on the timeline of stroke and the long-term outcome for those people.”

The researchers interviewed 540 people who had had an intracerebral hemorrhage, a type of stroke caused by bleeding in the brain, not a blood clot. They had an average age of 71 years. They, their caregivers or relatives were asked about their drinking habits.

25% (137) of all the people they assessed were classified as “heavy drinkers”. In this case, heavy drinking meant they were consuming at least 1.6 ounces of pure alcohol daily; approximately three alcoholic drinks.

The authors also checked the participants’ medical records and carried out CT brain scans.

They found that:

  • Regular heavy drinkers had a stroke at an average age of 60 years. This is 14 years earlier than for people who do not drink heavily.
  • Among younger patients who had a stroke in the deep part of the brain, the heavy drinkers had a considerably greater chance of dying within 24 months than their non-heavy drinking counterparts. (Younger victims refers to patients younger than 60)

Heavy drinkers tend to have other lifestyle habits which also raise their risk of stroke. Heavy drinkers are more likely..:

  • ..to be tobacco smokers
  • .. to show some evidence of blood irregularities which raise their risk of suffering from a bleeding stroke
  • .. to suffer falls
  • .. to experience liver problems.

Cordonnier said:

“It’s important to keep in mind that drinking large amounts of alcohol contributes to a more severe form of stroke at a younger age in people who had no significant past medical history.”

The authors emphasized that heavy drinking is only a risk factor for early stroke, and not a cause in itself.

Previous studies have linked heavy drinking to a higher risk of developing several different diseases and conditions:

In 2006, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) reported that heavy drinking cost the American economy $224 billion in one year, or $1.90 per drink consumed.

The authors added that alcohol abuse is a growing problem in most of the developed nations, including the United Kingdom. About 79,000 lives are lost each year in America because of heavy drinking.

Alcohol consumption per capita world map
Alcohol consumption per capita (per person) is much higher in industrial nations, as are the incidences of stroke

Written by Christian Nordqvist