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Updated on October 1, 2023
10 min read

What is the Connection Between Alcohol and Heart Disease?

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.

How Does Alcohol Affect Your Heart Health?

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.

Alcohol's Side Effects on the Heart

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:

  • Atrial fibrillation
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Heart disease
  • Heart failure

Can Daily Alcohol Consumption Harm Your Heart?

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.

Does Moderate Alcohol Consumption Affect Heart Health?

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.

What are the Risks Beyond Moderate Drinking?

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:

  • Liver failure
  • Kidney failure
  • Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
  • Lung inflammation

Notably, non-drinkers possess the lowest risk of developing alcohol-related heart conditions compared to those who consume alcohol.

Alcohol and Heart Disease Risks

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:

Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy

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.

Symptoms of Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy

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:

  • A fast, irregular pulse
  • Changes in urine output
  • Concentration problems
  • Cough with pink, frothy mucus
  • Fainting or dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swollen legs, ankles, and feet
  • Weakness

Given the seriousness of this condition, it’s best to consult a doctor who can diagnose and provide appropriate treatment for alcoholic cardiomyopathy.

Life Expectancy of 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 (CAD)

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.

Symptoms of Coronary Artery 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:

  • Angina or chest pain
  • A feeling of tightness in the chest area
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating

Congestive Heart Failure

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.

Symptoms of 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:

  • Bloating
  • Breathing difficulties when lying down
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Dry, hacking cough
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Rapid and irregular heartbeats
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swollen legs, feet, ankles, and abdomen
  • Weakness
  • Weight gain
  • Wheezing

Heart Attack

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. 

Symptoms of Congestive Heart Failure

A heart attack is a medical emergency. As such, it's important to be aware of the signs and symptoms, including:

  • Pain in either the left side or in the center of the chest, often described as crushing type of pain
  • Feeling lightheaded
  • Weakness
  • Feeling faint
  • Discomfort or pain in the jaw, neck, or back
  • Discomfort or pain in the arms or shoulders
  • Shortness of breath

Heart Arrhythmias

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:

  • "Fluttered" 
  • Added an extra beat
  • Missed a beat

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.

The Dangers of "Holiday Heart Syndrome"

"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:

  • Chest pain
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Breathlessness
  • Heightened blood pressure

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Alcohol and Heart Disease: The Benefits Don’t Outweigh the Risks

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. 

The Psychological Link: Stress, Alcohol, and the Heart

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:

  • Blood cholesterol
  • Triglycerides
  • Blood sugar
  • Blood pressure

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.

Stress, Blood Clotting, and Stroke Risk

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. 

Tips for Reasonable Drinking

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: 

  • Drink slowly and never more than one drink an hour
  • Eat before or while you are drinking
  • Alternate alcoholic drinks with nonalcoholic beverages (e.g., water)
  • Avoid drinking on an empty stomach
  • Don't mix alcohol with energy drinks or other stimulants
  • Make sure you have someone who can keep an eye on you
  • Remind yourself of the risks associated with excessive drinking 

Following these tips can significantly reduce your risk of heart disease and other conditions associated with long-term alcohol consumption.

When to Seek Help

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.

Updated on October 1, 2023
9 sources cited
Updated on October 1, 2023
All Alcoholrehabhelp content is medically reviewed or fact checked to ensure as much factual accuracy as possible.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only link to reputable media sites, academic research institutions and, whenever possible, medically peer reviewed studies.
  1. U.S. National Institutes of Health. "How To Help Someone You Know Who Drinks Too Much." National Institute on Aging, 2022.

  2. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014.

  3. "Economic Burden of Alcohol Misuse in the United States." National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2023.

  4. "Coronary Artery Disease." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021.

  5. "Heart Attack Symptoms, Risk, and Recovery." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022.

  6. "Effects of Alcohol on your Heart." British Heart Foundation.

  7. Piano, M. “Alcohol's Effects on the Cardiovascular System.” Alcohol Research, 2017.

  8. Fang et al. "The Prognostic Factors of Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy." Medicine, 2018.

  9. "Stress Can Increase Your Risk for Heart Disease." University of Rochester Medical Center.

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All content created by Alcohol Rehab Help is sourced from current scientific research and fact-checked by an addiction counseling expert. However, the information provided by Alcohol Rehab Help is not a substitute for professional treatment advice.
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