Binge Drinking Leads to Hypertension

As if we needed another reason to be concerned about alcohol consumption in our society, a new study indicates that young people who binge drink could end up with chronic high blood pressure.

“Binge drinking” is defined as having five or more alcoholic beverages at a single occasion. You may be as startled as I was to learn that about 4 in 10 young adults aged 18 to 24 are frequent binge drinkers.

The study showed that the systolic blood pressure in a binge drinker peaks 2.6 to 4.0 points higher than a non-binger. This is sufficient to place some in the early stages of high blood pressure, or “prehypertension.” Specifically, the systolic blood pressure for those who binged monthly was 2.6, and elevated to 4.0 for the youngsters who engaged in a drinking spree weekly.

The systolic blood pressure represents the pressure of the blood flowing through the arteries, the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats. You know it better as the top number in a typical blood pressure reading.

The standard systolic blood pressure for young adults is 104. Prehypertension is classified as having a systolic pressure in the neighborhood of 129-130. Doctors classify systolic pressure of 140 and above as full-on high blood pressure.

The study sampled 756 subjects and was piggy-backed on to some Canadian research on nicotine dependence. The research could not provide any direct causality between binge-drinking and higher blood pressure, but they were able to filter around other mitigating factors such as poor exercise and dietary habits by working the test subjects' body mass index into their equations.

Another disturbing trend brought to light by the study is that 85 percent of young adults who drink heavily at age 20 maintain this behavior at age 24. Although the study only sampled a group aged 18 to 24, the researchers saw no data that would make them believe that alcohol-binging young adults would stop binging any time soon.

Therein lays the crux of the concern, as the long-range health prospects for regularly binge-drinking youth are not good. The binge-drinkers in the study gained a full point in their systolic blood pressure every year they continued the behavior, leading them inexorably to a condition of high blood pressure.

Although high blood pressure remains the most important preventable risk factor for premature death around the world, it occurs in over 34 percent of the U.S. population (and in over 44 percent of African-Americans). Its presence increases the risk of numerous serious ailments, including strokes, heart failure, pulmonary embolisms, and dementia.