Does Alcohol Thin Your Blood? Know The Risks
Yes, alcohol thins your blood. It acts as an anticoagulant by decreasing blood thickness and affecting your body’s ability to form blood clots.
This is why some people extol the benefits of moderate drinking for heart health. The theory is that drinking moderate amounts of alcohol protects against blood clots that may block an artery, trigger a heart attack, or cause an ischemic stroke.
(It’s worth noting that the evidence of red wine’s heart-healthy benefits is considered weak, at best.)
Binge drinking and heavy drinking, on the other hand, can increase the risk of excessive bleeding and hemorrhagic stroke, even when not drinking.
So let’s dive into the research on alcohol’s blood thinning effects and what that means for people who take prescription blood thinners.
What is considered moderate and heavy drinking?
Before we dive into how alcohol thins your blood, it’s important to note what is considered moderate and heavy drinking.
Moderate alcohol consumption is defined as one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men.
A standard drink is roughly 14 grams of pure alcohol. Examples of this amount in actual alcoholic beverages include:
- A 5-ounce glass of wine
- 12 ounces of regular beer
- 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits
Any amount of alcohol that exceeds the daily limits of “moderate drinking” is considered heavy drinking, which brings additional health risks.
How does alcohol interfere with the blood clotting process?
Alcohol interferes with the blood clotting process in three primary ways: by affecting the production of platelets, the production of certain proteins, and interfering with enzymes involved in the clotting process.
1. Alcohol can affect the production of platelets.
Platelets are small cells in the blood that are essential for clotting. When you cut yourself or experience an injury, platelets help to form a plug at the site of the injury to stop the bleeding. Alcohol consumption can reduce the number of platelets in your blood, making it more difficult for your body to form a blood clot.
2. Alcohol can also affect the production of certain proteins involved in blood clotting.
One such protein is fibrinogen, which helps to form a mesh-like structure that helps to hold a blood clot in place. Alcohol consumption can reduce fibrinogen levels in the blood, making it more difficult for your body to form a stable blood clot.
3. Alcohol can also interfere with the activity of certain enzymes involved in blood clotting, such as thrombin.
Thrombin is an enzyme that helps to convert fibrinogen into fibrin, which is the main component of a blood clot. Alcohol consumption can inhibit the activity of thrombin, making it more difficult for your body to form a blood clot.
The net effect is that drinking alcohol increases the risk of bleeding and makes it more difficult for your body to stop bleeding when you experience an injury.
How long does alcohol thin your blood?
It depends on a few factors, like how long and how much you drink, your health, and the quality of your diet.
In general, alcohol can thin the blood for a few hours after it is consumed. Take that figure with a grain of salt. The exact duration of this effect can vary.
For some people, the effects of alcohol on the blood clotting process may be more pronounced and may last longer than others.
It’s also important to note that heavy and chronic alcohol consumption can have more lasting effects on the blood clotting process even when not drinking.
Chronic alcohol abuse can lead to a condition called alcoholic liver disease, which can interfere with the production of certain proteins involved in the blood clotting process, such as fibrinogen. This can increase the risk of bleeding and hemorrhagic stroke. It can also make it more difficult for the body to form a blood clot.
How much alcohol does it take to thin your blood?
It doesn’t take very much. Just 1-2 units of alcohol can thin your blood by reducing the number of platelets and making them less sticky, which impacts your body’s blood clotting ability.
How to Thicken Your Blood After Drinking Alcohol
If you want to thicken your blood naturally after drinking alcohol, one of the best ways to do it is by consuming foods that are high in vitamin K.
Vitamin K helps make 4 of the 13 proteins needed for blood clotting, particularly prothrombin, which is converted to thrombin during the clotting process. It acts as a natural coagulant.
Remember that thrombin is important for blood clotting. It helps to convert fibrinogen into fibrin, a protein that forms a mesh-like structure that helps stop bleeding. It also activates other proteins that are involved in the clotting process.
Natural food sources of Vitamin K include:
- Brussel Sprouts
- Soybean and canola oil
- Natto (fermented soybeans)
Facts about Vitamin K:
Did you know that antibiotics can destroy healthy gut bacteria that produce vitamin K and might also inhibit the action of vitamin K in the body?
Vitamin K is fat-soluble. Eating foods rich in vitamin K with fat (i.e., olive oil or avocados) can help your body absorb it.
Alcohol and Blood Thinners: Risks To Know
Blood thinners and alcohol do not mix. This is especially true for heavy drinkers, but moderate drinkers can experience complications, too.
Drinking alcohol while taking blood thinners is dangerous for the following reasons:
- It makes it hard for your doctor to prescribe the right dose.
- Alcohol slows down your body’s ability to break down and remove the blood-thinning drug, which can lead to a dangerous buildup.
- Alcohol impairs your liver’s ability to function properly, disrupting the efficacy of the blood-thinning medication and negatively impacting the blood clotting process.
You might also experience the following increased risks:
- Excessive bleeding from otherwise small injuries
- Bleeding-type strokes
- Internal bleeding
- Bleeding gums
- Excessive or unusual bruising
- Severe fatigue
- Nose bleeds (especially ones that won’t stop)
That’s why before starting any blood-thinning medication, it is important to speak honestly with your doctor about your alcohol consumption. They will advise you as to whether any amount of alcohol is safe to consume while on the medication.
It’s incredibly important to take that advice seriously to avoid serious complications.
You don’t have to figure this out on your own.
Types of Anticoagulants and Antiplatelet Medications:
Blood-thinning medications come in two varieties: anticoagulants (like warfarin) and antiplatelets (like aspirin).
- Anticoagulants slow down your body’s processes for forming blood clots.
- Antiplatelets prevent blood cells from clumping together to form clots.
Here is a list of common medications:
- Coumadin (warfarin is the generic version)
- Eliquis (apixaban)
- Lovenox (enoxaparin)
- Xarelto (rivaroxaban)
- Pradaxa (dabigatran)
- Savaysa (edoxaban)
- Arixtra (fondaparinux)
While some articles online (eh-hem, Healthline) make blanket statements that moderate drinking is generally safe while taking these medications, the vast majority of interviews with doctors and studies show this is not the case.
There is some evidence that newer anticoagulant medications may be less risky than older medications, like Coumadin, but it doesn’t mean you have the green light to drink.
Every individual is different. This is why you need to consult your doctor and take their informed advice about drinking while on blood thinners seriously.
What if I can’t stop drinking alcohol?
If you’re taking blood thinners or will be soon, quitting drinking is critically important. But for many people, it’s not an easy or simple process.
Let’s be honest. Drinking is engrained in the social fabric of many cultures. Chances are you live in one of them.
Unfortunately, that won’t change just because you can’t drink anymore.
So you’ll have to learn to deal with the pressures to drink and the inevitable triggers.
If you or someone you know is drinking alcohol, despite being on blood thinners and finding it difficult to stop on your own, speak to your doctor. You might need professional help or counseling.
If that’s not you, but you’re unsure how to navigate life as a non-drinker, these resources can help:
- Are You A Gray Area Drinker? How To Spot The Signs
- What Happens When You Quit Drinking For 30 Days
- Your Ultimate Guide To Dry January
- 17 Online Sobriety Support Networks To Know
- Why Some People Get Depressed After Quitting Alcohol
- What Alcohol Does To Your Brain
- Do You Drink A Bottle Of Wine A Day?
- 13 Fears About Sobriety + Why They Are Wrong
Looking for additional support? Check out the Soberish private Facebook group. We’re a great community ready to support you on your journey.