Experts believe that frequent and simultaneous use of alcohol and blood thinners may put individuals at risk of a stroke or heart attack. Like other drugs and intoxicating substances, alcohol can adversely and unpredictably interfere with the efficacy of the medication a person is taking. Because many people drink alcohol regularly or even daily, it is vital to understand how alcohol and blood thinners (BTs) interact and impact the body.
Mixing Blood Thinners and Alcohol
Using a moderate amount of ethanol with BTs is not necessarily harmful. This is because the effect of moderate amounts of ethanol now and then is probably not enough to cause significant harm to the body.
However, individuals who binge drink or drink excessively are at increased risk of complications because both substances have similar effects on clotting. Using them in combination has a synergistic effect in blocking the blood clotting, and the body may have an increased susceptibility to uncontrollable bleeding.
The most common uses of blood thinners include preventing deep vein thrombosis or blood clotting in the leg or the veins. If this condition is left untreated, it may advance to a life-threatening event known as a pulmonary embolism (PE), produced by clot fragment passing through the heart. Certain internal clots can be attributed to aging can be detrimental to one’s health, and BTs are usually recommended to conserve blood fluidity.
Blood Thinners Are of 3 Known Types:
Anticoagulants – Anticoagulant medications actively inhibit clotting in the body. Examples of Anticoagulants include warfarin (Coumadin) and heparin (Hemochron), and dabigatran (Pradaxa), among others.
Fibrinolytics – Fibrin is an integral component in clot formation. Therefore, fibrinolytic breaks fibrin formation, causing the dissolution of clots in the body. These medications are highly potent and used primarily for dissolving life-threatening clots, including clots that can cause a sudden heart attack or those located inside the brain that increases the risk of thromboembolic stroke. The administration of this medication is typically a one-time management plan and includes drugs such as urokinase (Kinlytic) and streptokinase (Streptase), among others.
Antiplatelets – Antiplatelets are medications that can come in the form of pills or injections that prevent blood platelets from converging and forming clots. These include drugs such as ticagrelor (Brilinta), clopidogrel (Plavix), and dipyridamole/aspirin (Aggrenox), among others.
Does Alcohol Thin Your Blood?
Yes. Consuming alcohol can provoke severe complications in the long run. Aside from its many disastrous effects on various body systems, alcohol can also damage the liver and impair its ability to produce anti-clotting measures.
Clotting is necessary for homeostasis, which balances various body capacities to ensure normal bodily functioning. When the body’s ability to clot is reduced, it cannot heal the myriad of micro-injuries it can incur regularly. Internal vessels may begin bleeding inside the body when enough liver damage has been sustained and cause massive hemorrhage and shock.
Drinking Alcohol May Produce Anti-Clotting Effects in Several Ways
Alcohol-induced thrombocytopenia – An abnormal decrease in platelets in the body induced by excessive alcohol consumption. The condition reduces platelets in plasma below 150,000 mL. This is below the normal range of 150,000-400,000 mL. Alcohol-induced thrombocytopenia is found in 3 to 43 percent of individuals considered healthy and 14-81 percent of those dependent or addicted to alcohol.
Thrombocytopathy – An alcohol-related impairment of the combined functions of platelets to form blood clots.
Alcohol-induced fibrinolysis – A breakdown of fibrins can be provoked by heavy alcohol use, depending on the time transpired since the last drink. The effects are variable and can lead to life-threatening blood clots and excessive bleeding.
Although alcohol reduces blood clotting, it should never be used as a replacement for anticoagulants.
Risks of Concurrent Consumption
Persons who occasionally use blood thinners and alcohol are not at significant risk. Occasional drinking may not interfere with the function of anticoagulants. However, excessive drinkers may be at substantial risk of severe complications, such as excessive bleeding and death.
If anticoagulants are used with a heavy amount of alcohol, this combination may result in excessive blood thinning due to their synergistic effect. Moderate alcohol use does thin the blood, but medical professionals do not recommend drinking as a substitution for a prescription blood thinner.
Moreover, drinking regularly can result in the blood becoming too thin, so gums, minor cuts, and incisions may bleed much more than they usually would. Older adults are especially susceptible to injuries and bleeding. Excessive drinking of blood thinners in these people can easily cause massive plasma loss and death.
While drinking does contribute to blood-thinning, the type of alcohol, frequency, and amount typically consumed also matters. Indeed, studies have not yet determined if red wine, beer, or many other alcoholic beverages have a higher capacity to cause deep vein thrombosis. However, liquor was implicated as a significant risk factor in the development of DVT. This could be related to the higher volume of alcohol in liquor and the tendency for abuse. Either way, binging on any alcohol while using BTs can expose one to DVT.
Dangerous Signs To Watch For
There are numerous side effects related to concurrent use of blood thinners and alcohol. Heavy drinking on blood thinners can result in a dangerous amount of bleeding. These include the following:
- Easy bruising
- Skin discoloration
- Blood in urine, vomit, or stool
- Excessive bleeding following injury
- Lower blood pressure
- Nausea and vomiting
- Stomach pain
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Altered level of consciousness
If any of these signs or symptoms are noticed, 911 should be called, and the person experiencing them should be taken to the nearby hospital’s emergency department immediately.
Effect of Alcohol on Cardiovascular System
Alcoholism has been associated with many effects on the cardiovascular system. Mild-to-moderate use has been linked to a reduced risk of developing factors that cause atherosclerosis, narrowing of vessels, and inflammation. Despite this, the harmful effects of its consumption are numerous, ranging from severe physical consequences, mitochondrial dysfunction, oxidative stress, inflammatory responses, to cell death and general damage to the cardiovascular system.
Alcohol immediately increases blood pressure and can cause this condition to become chronic over time. Hypertensive persons who use anticoagulants should actively avoid alcohol use, leading to brain bleeding due to its effects on blood clotting and pressure.
Research has shown that women who drink heavily are more susceptible to heart disease than men. However, it has also shown that men who used 5.1-30 grams of alcohol daily had a reduced risk (29%) of developing lethal heart disease or non-fatal myocardial infarction. This is evident that alcohol consumption at moderate levels may actually decrease the risk of coronary heart disease.
In another study that recorded 87,526 females, the risk of coronary heart disease was 40 percent higher than abstainers. Although moderation appears to be somewhat effective in promoting certain aspects of heart health, complete abstinence in many cases may be the best option.
Getting Help for Alcoholism
Persons who take blood thinners should avoid alcohol for all the reasons mentioned above. Those who have attempted to quit drinking heavily or cut back and have found themselves unable to do so should seek professional addiction treatment as soon as possible.
Just Believe Recovery offers customized, evidence-based programs that include all the therapies and services individuals need to recover. These include psychotherapy, counseling, group support, relapse prevention, aftercare planning, and more.