A new study has found that young adults in their 20s who regularly binge drink have higher blood pressure, which may increase the risk of developing hypertension and chronic diseases related to hypertension.
Binge drinking, defined as drinking five or more alcoholic beverages in less than two hours, is quite prevalent. Previous studies in Canada and the U.S. have shown that about four in 10 young adults aged 18 to 24 are frequent binge drinkers.
“We found that the blood pressure of young adults aged 20 to 24 who binge drink was two to four millimetres of mercury higher than non-binge drinkers,” said Jennifer O’Loughlin, Ph.D., of the University of Montreal Hospital Research Centre (CRCHUM) and senior author of the study, which was published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
For the study, researchers collected data on alcohol consumption at age 20 from 756 participants in the Nicotine Dependence in Teens study, which has followed 1,294 young people from diverse social backgrounds in Montreal since 1999.
Data was collected again at age 24, at which time the participants’ systolic blood pressure was also taken. Systolic blood pressure measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats (i.e., when the heart muscle contracts), and it should be below 140 millimetres of mercury.
A blood pressure reading of more than 140 over 90 indicates high blood pressure. The latter number, diastolic blood pressure, measures the pressure in the arteries between heartbeats (i.e., when the heart muscle is resting between beats and refilling with blood), the researchers explained.
“Our findings show that more than one in four young adults who binge drink meet the criterion for pre-hypertension (i.e., a systolic blood pressure between 120 and 139 millimetres of mercury). This is worrisome because this condition can progress to hypertension, which in turn can cause heart disease and premature death,” said O’Loughlin, a professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Montreal.
The study also revealed that 85 percent of young adults who drink heavily at age 20 maintain this behavior at age 24.
“But unlike our genetic make-up, risky behavior can be changed,” the researchers said.
The researchers will now investigate whether this trend toward high blood pressure will continue when binge drinkers turn 30.
Meanwhile, health professionals may need to adopt a preventive approach, O’Loughlin said.
“Poor diet, salt intake, and obesity are predictors of high blood pressure,” she said. “Since we know there is a link between higher blood pressure and the risk of developing chronic diseases, clinicians should ask young people about their alcohol consumption. A slight and continuous increase in systolic blood pressure may be an important warning sign.”