By Diana Rodriguez
Medically Reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH
People who smoke and drink should be concerned about their cardiovascular health. Both habits increase the risk of developing hypertension, or high blood pressure, which in turn increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
The effects of smoking and drinking on hypertension are well-known — both can have dramatic affects on heart health and blood pressure levels. So whether you've already been diagnosed with high blood pressure or have hypertension risk factors, it's time to do something about those risk factors you can control.
Smoking and High Blood Pressure
Smoking causes an immediate spike in blood pressure and can raise systolic blood pressure levels by as much as 4 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). The nicotine in tobacco products spur the nervous system to release chemicals that can constrict blood vessels and contribute to high blood pressure.
Smoking also causes long-term damage to blood vessels, so beyond the hypertension risk, this habit further increases the chance of developing problems like stroke, heart disease, and heart attack. The combination of smoking and hypertension puts you at greater risk of having a heart attack, stroke, or other cardiovascular event compared to non-smokers with hypertension.
Drinking and High Blood Pressure
To keep blood pressure in check and prevent health problems, it's best to drink alcohol moderately. That means no more than one alcoholic drink per day for women, and no more than two drinks per day for men. If you cut back on alcohol consumption, research shows that you may be able to lower systolic blood pressure levels by as many as 3 mm Hg..
Quitting and Cutting Back
Here are some tips to help you stop smoking and limit your alcohol intake:
Commit to quit. Set a date and sign a contract, if necessary, with yourself and maybe a witness, in order to stop smoking. Get rid of all of your tobacco supplies — cigarettes, lighters, ashtrays, anything related to smoking — and check with your doctor about trying a nicotine patch or gum.
Avoid triggers. Do you find yourself craving a smoke while watching TV, after eating, or during a phone conversation? Then keep yourself busy and avoid those triggers. Take a walk after meals instead of watching TV or get an after-dinner cappuccino at a coffeehouse instead of visiting a bar.
Fill your time. Treat yourself to a fun activity that will take your mind off smoking and drinking — see a movie, go shopping, sightsee, or pick up a new hobby to occupy your time and give you a sense of enjoyment and satisfaction.
Make alcohol a limited indulgence. Instead of settling in on the couch with a six-pack or a bottle of wine, limit yourself to one drink (two for men) per day. Be sure to remember serving sizes — a serving of wine is 5 ounces; a serving of beer is 12 ounces; and a serving of liquor is 1.5 ounces.
Recognize the signs of dependence. If you have a difficult time limiting alcohol, you might need outside support. When alcohol starts affecting work, school, or relationships, it's time to seek professional help. Support groups can help, but a detoxification program (complete withdrawal from alcohol use) and rehabilitation may be necessary if you are a heavy drinker.
You can't always prevent high blood pressure, but you can control hypertension risk factors such as tobacco and alcohol.