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The Truth About Drinking, Smoking and Their Effects on Blood Pressure, Cholesterol, and Your Health

man smoking

Be honest with yourself for a moment: Do you often drink or smoke? If so, you’re probably aware that both of these habits come with a multitude of potentially negative health consequences, including elevated risks of certain cancers. However, one thing you may not be aware of is that drinking and smoking can also negatively affect your blood pressure and cholesterol.

Why are blood pressure and cholesterol levels such a big deal? Both heavily influence your cardiovascular health. Because heart disease is the No. 1 killer of men and women in the United States, it’s easy to see why keeping your blood pressure and cholesterol numbers optimal is so critical — even if it means giving up some hard-to-break habits.

The Dangers of Drinking

Perhaps you’ve heard that some alcoholic beverages (particularly red wine) can actually help your cholesterol levels. Surprisingly, this may be true — but only if you drink in moderation. That being said, alcohol also has the potential to harm your heart in other ways.

Alcohol — especially when consumed excessively — can raise blood pressure over time, cause irregular heartbeats (known as arrhythmia), and weaken the heart (heart failure) so it is unable to pump effectively. In addition, alcohol can raise your triglycerides, which are a type of fat in the blood. And if you’re taking medication to treat high blood pressure, be aware that alcohol may hinder the medication’s effectiveness and also worsen side effects.

The key is to only drink in moderation (if at all). Wondering how much alcohol is too much? Experts recommend no more than one or two servings of alcohol per day or less, and to avoid binge drinking. A single drink of alcohol is as follows for reference:

  • Beer: 12 ounces
  • Wine: 4 ounces
  • 80-proof liquor: 1.5 ounces
  • 100-proof liquor: 1 ounce

The Hazards of Smoking

While drinking can be a threat to your health, smoking is certainly worse. Unlike alcohol at low or moderate levels, there is no benefit to tobacco use at any level. When you smoke, you inhale various chemicals that can injure cells, causing both cancer and artery damage (e.g. heart attacks and strokes).

Tobacco smoke can take a toll on your cholesterol levels as well. It’s known to lower HDL (or “good”) cholesterol, elevate LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol and also cause a rise in triglycerides — the same type of blood fat that can build up as a result of alcohol consumption. It also injures the arteries, making the “bad” LDL cholesterol more likely to stick and cause blockages.

As if these issues aren’t enough, smoking can harm your cardiovascular health in other ways too. Your blood becomes thicker, artery walls become stiffer and more inflamed, and blood circulation is negatively affected. Not to mention, your lungs literally become black from tar.

The Benefits of Quitting

Amidst all these dire health threats, there is some good news: You have the power to change your health for the better by putting your harmful habits to rest. If you quit, your body will heal the damage. Rid your home of all tobacco products (and alcohol, too, if necessary). Tell a close friend or family member about your goal to quit so you’ll have support and someone to help you. Seek outside help from support groups or medical professionals if you’re unable to stop drinking or smoking on your own.

Sauk Prairie Healthcare can help! Go to to learn more about our Breathe Easy Quit Smoking Classes.

Though quitting may not be easy at first, you will eventually feel better and the health benefits you’ll receive as a result will be worth it!