In this article
Alcohol is a popular component in social situations, often a tool for celebrating different occasions. But what many people don’t realize is that alcohol consumption can pose serious health risks — including the development of heart disease.
Certain studies have shown the positive effects of moderate drinking. However, more research has demonstrated a correlation between excessive alcohol use and an increased risk for cardiovascular issues.
This blog post looks at the link between alcohol consumption and heart disease. That way, you can make informed decisions about your health and lifestyle.
Drinking alcohol can have several effects on the cardiovascular system. It can raise the levels of hormones that cause arteries to tighten and constrict, which alters the force needed to pump blood.
Additionally, alcohol affects receptors in the blood vessels around the heart that regulate blood pressure. Alcohol consumption can also lead to an increase in stress hormones like cortisol.
That results in an elevated blood pressure and heart rate. Moreover, regular alcohol use is often associated with weight gain, which is a significant risk factor for developing high blood pressure.
Some mild effects of alcohol include elevated blood pressure and heart rate. These can worsen and lead to more severe heart damage.
The more serious complications from alcohol use include:
Long-term, heavy alcohol use presents the most significant risks to your heart. However, even those who enjoy just one daily drink can experience alcohol-related heart problems.
While smaller amounts of alcohol are less likely to harm your heart, there's no scientific evidence that alcohol has real benefits.
Moderate drinking involves consuming one drink daily for women and 2 for men. While it has long been thought that a glass of wine daily has health benefits, recent studies suggest that even moderate amounts of alcohol can adversely affect heart health.
Specifically, as little as seven drinks per week can impact the heart's well-being. New research suggests that even a few ounces of wine per day can lead to an increased risk of heart disease.
Moderate drinkers risk developing alcohol-related heart conditions less than heavy drinkers. For instance, consuming more than 14 weekly drinks significantly escalates the associated heart risks.
Binge drinking, or consuming more than four alcoholic beverages in a single session, can also lead to health issues. These include:
Notably, non-drinkers possess the lowest risk of developing alcohol-related heart conditions compared to those who consume alcohol.
Alcohol can affect people differently. Nonetheless, moderate-to-heavy alcohol use can lead to various heart-related issues.
Some problems, like high blood pressure, can be manageable with proper treatment. However, other conditions can be more severe, necessitating extended recovery periods.
Here are some of the prevailing heart conditions that prolonged alcohol consumption causes:
Cardiomyopathy is a heart muscle disease that results in an enlarged or thickened heart. Contrary to what some might think, this enlargement doesn't mean the heart becomes stronger. It makes it more difficult for the heart to pump blood through the body.
Long-term excessive alcohol consumption is the primary cause of alcoholic cardiomyopathy. As a consequence, the heart becomes enlarged.
As the disease progresses, the heart takes up more space in the chest cavity. Thus, the condition can affect the heart rhythm and lead to further complications.
It’s essential to be aware that alcoholic cardiomyopathy might not exhibit symptoms until it reaches an advanced stage. However, when symptoms do manifest, the most common ones include:
Given the seriousness of this condition, it’s best to consult a doctor who can diagnose and provide appropriate treatment for alcoholic cardiomyopathy.
Heavy drinkers who consume over 80 g of alcohol daily for at least five years risk developing alcoholic cardiomyopathy and heart failure (HF). Without stopping alcohol consumption, the chance of dying from ACM within four years can be as high as 50%. This makes it a leading cause of death for long-term heavy drinkers.
Coronary artery disease is the most common among the various types of cardiovascular disease. This form of heart disease arises from the long-term buildup of triglycerides within the coronary arteries, which are heart walls.
These fatty deposits or “plaques” narrow the walls, which can lead to blood clots. As a result, the heart struggles to receive the necessary oxygen and blood flow to function optimally, increasing the risk of a heart attack and even death.
Drinking alcohol over extended periods can influence cholesterol levels. This further contributes to the onset of coronary heart disease.
It's important to note that CAD often remains asymptomatic in its early stages. However, as plaques persistently accumulate, you may begin to experience symptoms such as:
Heart failure occurs when the heart no longer functions adequately and cannot effectively pump blood through the body. Specifically, congestive heart failure arises from a buildup of deposits in the blood vessels that impede the heart's proper functioning.
This condition shares similarities with coronary heart disease. Particularly, excessive alcohol consumption can precipitate its onset, as well as other heart complications. Repeated and long-term alcohol abuse significantly amplifies the risk of developing congestive heart failure.
For those with congestive heart failure, the presentation of symptoms can vary widely. Some might not exhibit any signs, while others may experience symptoms that fluctuate in severity or intermittently come and go.
The most common symptoms include:
A heart attack, or cardiac arrest, is a potential side effect of long-term alcohol consumption. It occurs when one or more coronary arteries become blocked. This happens when the fatty deposits build up so much that they impede blood flow to the heart muscle.
The detrimental effects of alcohol on cholesterol levels are one of the primary contributing factors to heart attacks. As previously mentioned, heavy drinking can cause multiple cardiovascular diseases like hypertension and abnormal heart rhythms.
These can all lead to a heart attack or stroke if the condition is untreated.
A heart attack is a medical emergency. As such, it's important to be aware of the signs and symptoms, including:
An arrhythmia describes an irregular heartbeat that deviates from the heart's normal rhythm. It can manifest as a heartbeat that's too fast (tachycardia) or too slow (bradycardia).
When experiencing an arrhythmia, you might feel your heart has:
This irregularity arises when the electrical signals, vital for coordinating heartbeats, malfunction. Although many arrhythmias are benign, they can often signify a damaged or weakened heart. This poses a risk of severe complications.
"Holiday Heart Syndrome" is a term introduced in 1978 to describe a specific type of arrhythmia. The name originates from the noticeable spike in cases around the holiday season when people are more prone to excessive drinking.
Binge drinking, which involves consuming at least 15 units of alcohol within 24 hours, triggers this syndrome. Those with Holiday Heart Syndrome may experience these symptoms, which significantly elevate the risk of heart attacks and sudden death:
BetterHelp offers affordable mental health care via phone, video, or live-chat.Find a Therapist
Answer a few questions to get started
While you may have heard about the supposed benefits of drinking alcohol, science doesn’t fully back up these claims. So, you aren’t missing out on anything if you’re not drinking alcohol.
Health professionals don’t recommend you start drinking. Aside from heart problems, drinking alcohol increases the risks of:
If you want to reduce your risk of heart disease and the other conditions mentioned above, there are better ways to do so. Exercising, eating a balanced diet, and quitting smoking offer the same benefits without the unnecessary risks that alcohol carries.
Long-term stress can have detrimental effects on heart health. High levels of cortisol, a hormone your body releases when stressed, can raise the following:
These are all common risk factors for heart disease. Additionally, stress can lead to changes in the arteries that promote plaque accumulation. This further increases the risk of heart problems.
It’s worth noting that even minor stress can trigger cardiovascular issues. Such stress can lead to insufficient blood flow to the heart muscle, resulting in an inadequate supply of oxygen.
Chronic, long-term stress can wreak havoc on the body's natural ability to clot blood. When your blood becomes 'sticky', it has an increased chance to form clots in unwanted places.
This heightens the chances of a stroke. Additionally, it can result in difficulties with clotting during minor accidents or injuries.
If you choose to drink alcohol, it’s wise to do so responsibly. Here are some simple tips that can ensure your drinking stays within safe limits:
Following these tips can significantly reduce your risk of heart disease and other conditions associated with long-term alcohol consumption.
If you're concerned that your drinking is becoming a problem, don’t hesitate to seek help. Multiple treatment options are available, from inpatient rehab programs to outpatient counseling.
Additionally, you can find several support groups and organizations dedicated to helping those struggling with addiction. These resources allow you to connect with people who understand what it’s like to have an alcohol problem.
You can also consult your doctor if you have questions about how drinking alcohol might affect your health. They can advise if you need further medical intervention and provide specific advice regarding your lifestyle.
Drinking alcohol isn't worth the potential risk to your heart and overall health. The best way to protect yourself against heart disease is to avoid excessive alcohol consumption.
There are better ways to reduce stress and improve your cardiovascular health without putting yourself in danger. Taking a break from drinking can help you live a healthier life physically and mentally.
If you drink, remember to do so responsibly and watch for any warning signs. Above all else, never ignore your body's warnings and seek help. Professional intervention can make a world of difference in managing an addiction.
In this article