You won’t be raising a glass to this news.
It’s a well-known fact that alcohol is not exactly good for us. While it has debated benefits (like red wine being good for heart health), the negatives tend to outweigh the positives. Alcohol can lead to certain kinds of cancer, high blood pressure, digestive problems, a weakened immune system and more, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Now, a new study published in the journal Neurology found even more reason for moderate and heavy drinkers to examine their consumption — particularly young people who fall into this category: Drinking may increase your risk of stroke.
The study used data from a Korean national health database to follow 1.5 million people in their 20s and 30s for roughly six years. The data revealed that people who fell into the moderate and heavy drinker category for two years of the study were 19% more likely to have a stroke than those who did not drink or who were considered light drinkers. After three years of moderate to heavy drinking, that risk went up to 22%. After four years, the risk of suffering a stroke climbed to 23%. Specifically, young people who frequently consumed alcohol had a higher risk of hemorrhagic stroke, which is a result of bleeding in the brain.
This study defined moderate and heavy drinking as consuming 105 grams or more of alcohol in a week; a standard drink in the U.S. has about 14 grams of alcohol. So, for the sake of this study, moderate and heavy drinkers consume a little more than one drink per day (which, by society’s standards, really doesn’t seem like that much).
Overall, strokes are much more common in older people, but the risk of stroke in young people is rising. In this study, 3,153 of 1.5 million young people had a stroke.
To determine this information, participants reported how much they drank via questionnaires. This method does leave room for error: Participants could have self-reported incorrectly if they didn’t remember how much they drank. Additionally, this study only included Korean people, so it’s unclear if these results are the same in other populations.
What does this mean for me?
It can be tough to cut back on (or cut out) alcohol since it’s so prevalent in our society — you may make happy hour plans regularly, unwind with a glass of wine with dinner and probably feel pretty rude not offering your house guests a drink when they arrive. But it is possible to do so, and any caring friend or family member should understand.
It may be easiest to start by reducing your consumption instead of flat-out stopping — you can try replacing one drink at happy hour with a glass of water or a mocktail, or you can try limiting the number of days you drink each week. You can also try getting into an enjoyable exercise routine, which will help you manage stress, boost your mental health and will also be a way to fill your time (and you may find that you have more time on your hands when you cut out alcohol — you’ll be less likely to meet a friend at a bar or go to an event where you know alcohol is the centerpiece).
Harvard Health also recommends making a list of the reasons why you want to cut out drinking to help motivate you. This could include health reasons like decreasing your risk of stroke or bettering your relationships with loved ones.
This will be hard; alcohol is very addictive and you shouldn’t be alarmed if you notice you’re not feeling your best as you cut back on your drinking. Dr. Bruce Bassi, a board-certified addiction psychiatrist, previously told HuffPost that you may notice some withdrawal symptoms when quitting alcohol.
“There are many ‘post-acute’ effects of alcohol abstinence which last up to one year,” Bassi said. “Some of the post-acute symptoms are unpleasant and perpetuate the use of alcohol, which makes it so difficult to stop. The post-acute symptoms include trouble concentrating, irritability, fatigue, low motivation, anxiety and mood swings.”
If you struggle with quitting, you should get in touch with a professional. For people who are living with addiction, alcohol withdrawal is a serious problem that can lead to major health issues like seizures and even death. In this case, you’ll want to quit alcohol under the supervision of an expert.
Beyond cutting back on or cutting out alcohol, there are other ways you can lower your risk of stroke, too.
The National Institute on Aging recommends eating healthy foods, exercising regularly, quitting smoking and controlling risk factors like cholesterol, diabetes and high blood pressure.
It’s also important to know the signs of stroke, which, according to the American Stroke Association, include facial drooping, trouble speaking and numbness or weakness on one side of your body.
Need help with substance use disorder or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.