Alcohol and Heart Disease

How Does Alcohol Affect Your Heart Health?

It is well known that long-term alcohol usage causes liver disease, but the effect that alcohol has on the heart is less understood. However, recent studies have shown that even moderate alcohol intake can have adverse effects on the heart. 

Some mild heart effects caused by alcohol use include elevated blood pressure and an increased heart rate. These conditions can cause more serious heart damage if they remain higher than normal. More serious complications include atrial fibrillation, cardiomyopathy, heart disease, or heart failure. 

Long-term, heavy alcohol use poses greater risks to your heart. However, some people can suffer from alcohol-related heart problems from drinking just one drink per day. 

While smaller amounts of alcohol are less likely to have a harmful effect on your heart, there is no research that proves alcohol is beneficial for heart health. 

Does Moderate Alcohol Consumption Affect Heart Health?

Yes, moderate amounts of alcohol (1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men) can affect heart health. Recent studies suggest that as little as 7 drinks per week can potentially have adverse effects on heart health. It has long been thought that a glass of wine per day has health benefits, but new research suggests this is not entirely true. Even a few ounces of wine per day can lead to an increased risk of heart disease.

Moderate drinkers have a lower risk of developing alcohol-related heart conditions than heavy drinkers. 

For example, consuming more than 14 drinks per week leads to a significant increase in associated heart risks. Binge drinking, which is defined as consuming more than four alcoholic beverages in a single session, can also lead to health problems, such as: 

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

Non-drinkers have the lowest risk of developing heart-related health conditions than those who drink alcohol. 

Alcohol and Heart Disease Risks

Numerous heart problems can arise from moderate-to-heavy alcohol use. Some of these conditions are mild and easily treatable, such as high blood pressure. However, others can be severe and require long recovery periods. 

Below are some of the most common heart conditions that can result from long-term alcohol consumption: 

Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy

Cardiomyopathy is a heart muscle disease characterized by an enlarged or thickened heart. This might lead some people to believe the heart becomes stronger, but it actually makes it more difficult to pump blood through the body. 

Alcoholic cardiomyopathy is caused by long-term, excessive alcohol consumption and results in an enlarged heart. Cardiomyopathy can affect the heart rhythm and lead to more serious problems as it takes up more space in the chest cavity. In the United States, it is best to check with a cardiologist from the American Heart Association to diagnose and treat this condition. 

Coronary Heart Disease

There are many different types of cardiovascular disease, and coronary artery disease is the most common. This form of heart disease is caused by the long-term buildup of triglycerides that form within the coronary arteries (the heart walls). These fatty deposits cause the walls to narrow and can lead to blood clots. This makes it harder for the heart to get the oxygen and blood flow it needs to function correctly and can lead to a heart attack and possibly death. 

Drinking alcohol over a long period can affect cholesterol levels and lead to coronary heart disease. 

Congestive Heart Failure

Heart failure is when the heart is no longer able to function and cannot pump blood through your body. Congestive heart failure occurs when a buildup of deposits in the blood vessels stops the heart from functioning. Like coronary heart disease, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to congestive heart failure, and other heart complications. 

Repeated and long-term alcohol abuse greatly increases the risk of congestive heart failure. 

Heart Attack

A heart attack, or cardiac arrest, is a potential side effect of long-term alcohol consumption. While heavy drinking is more likely to contribute to an acute heart problem, moderate drinking over a long period can also increase the risk of heart attack or stroke. 

Resources

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2005). “Helping patients who drink too much: a clinician’s guide.” Rockville: National Institutes of Health; 2005. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/Practitioner/CliniciansGuide2005/guide.pdf

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2008). “Alcohol-Related Disease Impact (ARDI).” CDC. Atlanta, GA

Harwood H. (2000). “Updating estimates of economic costs of alcohol abuse in the United States: estimates, update methods, and data.” Rockville (MD): National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. NIH Publication No. 98-4327. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/economic-2000

Updated on: September 22, 2020
Author
Jordan Flagel
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Medically Reviewed
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Annamarie Coy,
BA, CADACII/ICADC, ICPR, MATS
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