Smoking and drinking

You are twice as likely to have a stroke if you smoke.

Smoking causes your arteries to fur up and makes a blood clot more likely. So stopping smoking is one of the most important things you can do to reduce your risk of stroke.

The toxic cycle of smoking

Public Health England warns of the toxic cycle of smoking:

Every time you smoke, blood that is thick and dirty with toxins, circulates through your body in seconds, which increases your chances of a stroke. If you could see the damage you would stop.

As part of the Health Harms campaign, the NHS is offering a range of free support tools to people who wish to quit in 2014. Support tools include face-to-face support, a Smartphone App, Quit Kits, and supportive daily emails and text messages.

Information about all the support tools can be found on the NHS smokefree website as well as tips and guidance for anyone looking to stop smoking.


There are many ways to get help with quitting.

  • Self-help books provide advice and useful techniques.
  • You can find free information leaflets at your local GP surgery or library.
  • Your GP may be able to refer you to a stop smoking group.
  • Nicotine replacement chewing gum, sprays and patches can help in the early stages of giving up (but they may not be suitable for people who have already had a stroke).

The NHS Smokefree Helpline can help you discuss the different ways you can give up. Their helpline opening hours are Monday-Friday 9am–8pm and Saturday-Sunday 11am-5pm. Call Smokefree on 0800 022 4 332.

The NHS helpline for Scotland is Smokeline, 0800 84 84 84, open seven days a week 8am-10pm. The website is


Drinking too much alcohol can also increase your blood pressure.

Binge drinking (more than six units of alcohol within six hours) in particular can cause your blood pressure to increase rapidly which greatly increases the risk of a stroke.

  • Don’t drink every day or exceed the recommended limits.
  • Women should not drink more than two to three units of alcohol a day (if you are pregnant, you should not drink at all).
  • Men should have no more than three to four units a day.

A unit of alcohol is a small glass of wine, a single measure of spirits or half a pint of weak beer or lager.

There is a lot of help and support available. Read our factsheets on smoking and alcohol for more information, tips to help you and other organisations that offer more specific support.

Read our publications:
Smoking and the risk of stroke
Alcohol and stroke

Useful organisations:
Smokefree campaign 
Stopsmoking Wales 
Alcohol Concern

Alcohol Focus Scotland  

UK Drug Rehab