Findings link moderate use to an increase in strokes in young people
A recent study has certainly raised additional concerns regarding consuming alcohol beverages and our neurological health, particularly in regard to young adults.
Now, researchers have published findings that indicate young people considered “moderate to heavy drinkers” were more likely to have a stroke compared with those who were light drinkers or didn’t drink any alcohol at all. The more than 1.5 million subjects were in their 20s and 30s and part of a Korean national health database.
So, the question of “how much is too much” is definitely something we need to further explore for the benefit of our brains AND to ensure the current and future health of our youth!
More than 90% of the stroke burden is attributable to modifiable risk factors like drinking.
Alcohol consumption is a modifiable, lifestyle risk factor, meaning it’s something we actually can control to potentially reduce disease occurrence. Other modifiable risks include diet and avoiding processed foods, getting exercise, quitting or never smoking, and getting adequate sleep.
Check your understanding of some current data regarding alcohol consumption:
Understanding the data can inform better decision making.
So, how do you think you did on the questions above? The answers are: B, C, B.
If you were unsure of the correct responses, it’s crucial to become aware of the facts regarding alcohol consumption and how all ages can be adversely affected. And the recent study linking increased stroke incidence to drinking habits in our youth population puts the spotlight on why we must address this topic right now.
College alcoholism affects millions of primarily college-aged students every year, although we know many children are drinking at even younger ages. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 80% of college students – four out of every five – consume alcohol to some degree. And it’s estimated that 50% of those students engage in binge drinking, which involves consuming too much alcohol in too little time.
About 1 in 5 deaths of people ages 20 to 49 were attributable to excessive alcohol use in the United States, according to another recent study; for people ages 20 to 64, drinking-related deaths accounted for 1 in 8.
The CDC defines moderate drinking as two drinks or less in a day for men or one drink or less in a day for women. And two-thirds of all adults report drinking MORE than moderate amounts at least once a month.
The CDC also estimates that 1 in 6 adults binge drink. Binge drinking is defined as four or more drinks on an occasion for a woman, and five or more drinks for a man — with a quarter of these adults doing so at least weekly.
Mechanisms of stroke and alcohol.
Several possible mechanisms may explain the relationship between alcohol consumption and stroke. First, excessive and/or regular alcohol consumption can lead to hypertension or high blood pressure, which we know increases our risk of stroke.
Alcohol increases the incidence of atrial fibrillation (AF) in a dose-dependent manner, and the risk for thromboembolism; cerebral vasospasm has been reported as a possible mechanism as well. A report in Neurologyconcluded: young adults who engaged in moderate to heavy drinking demonstrated a higher risk for incident stroke, especially hemorrhagic stroke. Reducing alcohol consumption should be emphasized in young adults with heavy drinking habits as part of any stroke prevention strategy.
What the study shows re: increased strokes in young consumers of alcohol.
This latest report found that people in their 20s and 30s who drink moderate to heavy amounts of alcohol may be more likely to have a stroke as young adults than people who drink low amounts or no alcohol at all.
According to the Korean study, the risk of stroke increased commensurate with the number of years that people reported moderate or heavy drinking.
Those who drank 105 grams (equal to roughly 1.5 ounces) or more of alcohol per day each week were considered to be moderate or heavy drinkers - and just 1.5 ounces is considered as one drink. A standard drink contains about 14 grams of alcohol, which is equivalent to 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of liquor.
Of the more than 1.5 million young people included in the study (both men and women), a total of 3,153 suffered a stroke during the study. People who were moderate to heavy drinkers for two or more years of the study were more likely to have a stroke than people who were light drinkers or did not drink alcohol.
And as the number of years of moderate to heavy drinking increased, so did the risk of stroke. People with two years of moderate to heavy drinking had an approximate 19% increased risk, people with three years had a 22% increased risk, and those with four years had a 23% increased risk of having a stroke.
These results were determined after researchers accounted for other factors that could affect the risk of stroke, such as high blood pressure, smoking and body mass index. The association was mainly due to an increased risk of hemorrhagic stroke, or a type of stroke caused by bleeding in the brain.
This research supports previous findings, one of which was a study that linked even low levels of alcohol consumption with increased blood pressure that can lead to strokes.
Alcohol and other neurological concerns.
Youth who are identified as heavy drinkers exhibited a steeper decline in frontal gray matter volume, with evidence of neurotoxicity noted in the brain’s white matter. Previous investigations also have found that alcohol significantly impairs learning and memory in teens. And compounding concerns is the rate of deaths of nearly 30% directly attributed to the rise in alcohol consumption in the U.S. in just the first year of the pandemic, according to additional data from the CDC.
The situation demands more communication and education regarding the risks to young people associated with drinking excessively and in amounts they may not even realize could endanger their neurological wellbeing. It’s unlikely that a 25-year-old will consider the possibility that their daily beer or glass of wine could lead to something as potentially devastating as a stroke. The goal is not to frighten our children or youth, but to fully communicate all the facts so they have the opportunity to make informed lifestyle choices for their own current and future health. And as always, be sure to talk to your family clinician for resources and recommendations – we are all here to help!
In hope and healing,
Dr. Suzanne Gazda
Other related reading from our blog library:
Jae-wook Chung, So-Ryoung Lee et al. Cumulative Alcohol Consumption Burden and the Risk of Stroke in Young Adults: A Nationwide Population-Based Study. Neurology. Nov 2022. https://n.neurology.org/content/neurology/early/2022/11/02/WNL.0000000000201473.full.pdf
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Alcohol and Public Health
Esser MB, Leung G, Sherk A, et al. Estimated Deaths Attributable to Excessive Alcohol Use Among US Adults Aged 20 to 64 Years, 2015 to 2019. JAMA Netw Open. 2022;5(11):e2239485. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.39485
Iona Y Millwood, Robin G Walters, Xue W Mei, et al. Conventional and genetic evidence on alcohol and vascular disease aetiology: a prospective study of 500 000 men and women in China. The Lancet. Volume 393, ISSUE 10183, P1831-1842, May 04, 2019. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(18)31772-0/fulltext
Tapert SF, Eberson-Shumate S. Alcohol and the Adolescent Brain: What We've Learned and Where the Data Are Taking Us. Alcohol Res. 2022;42(1):07. Published 2022 Apr 7. doi:10.35946/arcr.v42.1.07. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8999519/
Silveri MM. Adolescent brain development and underage drinking in the United States: identifying risks of alcohol use in college populations. Harv Rev Psychiatry. 2012;20(4):189-200. doi:10.3109/10673229.2012.714642. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4669962/
Dr. Suzanne Gazda, Integrative Neurology