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Updated on September 14, 2023
6 min read

A Look At Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy: Causes & Treatment

What Is Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy?

Alcoholic cardiomyopathy is a form of dilated cardiomyopathy (heart disease) caused by chronic alcohol consumption or long-term alcohol abuse. Long-term alcohol abuse can damage your heart muscle over time. 

It causes your heart to stretch, making it bigger and susceptible to complications. Your heart won’t be able to pump blood as efficiently and reduce oxygen throughout your body.

Who is At Risk of Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy?

Men between 35 and 50 have a higher risk of developing alcohol-induced cardiomyopathy. Women can also develop this form of heart disease, but it is less common.

Most people who develop alcohol-induced cardiomyopathy have a history of heavy drinking—especially those who have been drinking heavily for 5 to 15 years.

Heavy drinking is defined as:

  • Men: four drinks a day or more than 14 drinks each week
  • Women: three drinks a day or more than seven drinks each week

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Causes of Alcohol Cardiomyopathy

Alcohol-induced cardiomyopathy is caused by chronic alcohol abuse. It can also result from alcohol use disorder (AUD) and alcohol dependence.

Dependence is characterized by uncontrollable drinking patterns and a strong urge to drink alcohol. This stage of alcohol misuse is when tolerance develops, and serious withdrawal symptoms can occur.

Alcohol can have a toxic effect on many of your organs, such as the liver and heart. Alcoholic cardiomyopathy is diagnosed when the heart muscle and surrounding blood vessels stop functioning correctly.

Other Causes of Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy?

In some cases, alcoholic cardiomyopathy is caused by a genetic mutation that makes your body process alcohol much slower than others.5 You can become intoxicated or damage your body with fewer drinks.

By being more susceptible to the damaging effects of alcohol, you’re more likely to develop alcoholic cardiomyopathy. Your lifestyle choices can also worsen your condition, especially when you use substances that affect your heart, lungs, and circulatory system.

These substances include:

  • Tobacco
  • Cocaine
  • Heroin
  • Opioids
  • Methamphetamines
  • MDMA (ecstasy) 

Symptoms of Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy

The symptoms of alcoholic cardiomyopathy appear differently for everyone. Some people don’t have any symptoms during the early stages. Others may develop severe symptoms.

The primary indicators of advanced alcoholic cardiomyopathy include:

  • Difficulty breathing, especially while exercising
  • Shortness of breath or sleep apnea
  • Heart palpitations
  • Poor appetite 
  • Irregular or fast heart rate
  • A persistent cough that produces a pink mucus
  • Problems with urination
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Swollen feet, ankles, or legs
  • Memory issues
  • Trouble focusing on daily tasks
  • Weight Gain

If you notice any symptoms of alcoholic cardiomyopathy, seek immediate medical attention. Alcoholic cardiomyopathy is dangerous and potentially life-threatening.


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Risk Factors of Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy

You can experience heart failure if alcohol-induced cardiomyopathy is left untreated or worsens. Heart failure happens when the heart muscle becomes too weak and stops pumping blood normally.

Other risk factors associated with advanced alcoholic cardiomyopathy include:

  • Heart attacks
  • Leaking heart valves
  • Blood clots
  • Extremely high blood pressure
  • An enlarged heart
  • Atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat)
  • Stroke
  • Blood clots
  • Liver disease or cirrhosis 
  • Arrhythmia, a less severe form of irregular heart rhythm
  • Death

Short-Term Side Effects of Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy

Alcoholic cardiomyopathy can have acute or short-term complications. An example of this is a condition known as “holiday heart syndrome.”

This disrupts your heart rhythm, as the chambers of your heart beat quickly. When your heart does this, it’s incapable of pumping blood effectively, causing:

  • Atrial fibrillation: Occurs when blood pools in the upper chambers of your heart, which causes clotting and strokes
  • Ventricular fibrillation: a less common side effect of acute alcoholic cardiomyopathy that happens when you pass out when your heart isn’t pumping enough blood; it may even stop your heart 

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Can You Prevent Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy?

To avoid alcoholic cardiomyopathy, abstain from alcohol or drink in moderation. Because alcoholic cardiomyopathy is influenced by how much alcohol you drink, lessening your alcohol intake can reduce the likelihood of developing the condition.

This is especially true if your genetic condition affects how your body metabolizes alcohol. However, the best way to completely prevent alcoholic cardiomyopathy is not to drink at all.

Outlook, Diagnosis & Treatment Options

The outlook for someone with alcoholic cardiomyopathy depends on the following:

  • How long you’ve abused alcohol
  • Your age
  • The stage of your condition

If the heart is severely damaged, the chances of a full recovery are low. If the disease is caught early, stopping alcohol use completely and taking certain medications can help restore the heart’s function. 

Diagnosing Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy

To diagnose alcoholic cardiomyopathy, your doctor will conduct a physical exam and ask about your medical history. The physical test will involve simple tests to identify signs of alcoholic cardiomyopathy or congestive heart failure.

After this, you’ll be subjected to different types of imaging. Several types of imaging tests can examine your heart and lungs, these include:

  • Chest x-rays
  • CT scan
  • Echocardiogram (uses sound waves to take photos of your heart)
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG) to check the electrical signals of your heartbeat

Although lab tests aren’t useful in diagnosing the condition, they can help check the severity of your heart condition. It can also be used to check other organs for damage.

Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy Treatment

Alcoholic cardiomyopathy treatment may include medications, surgery, or a combination. Various medications can help ease the symptoms of alcoholic cardiomyopathy.

Beta-blockers will be used to improve heart rhythm and blood pressure. They may also use diuretics to help your body remove excess fluid and reduce swelling.  

Depending on the severity of the condition, your doctor may suggest:

  • A healthier diet (less saturated and trans fat)
  • Stopping alcohol use altogether
  • Taking certain medications to reduce heart strain (diuretics, ACE inhibitors, and beta-blockers) 
  • Heart surgery or a heart transplant, depending on the stage of the condition and whether the patient can undergo surgery

Can You Cure Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy?

Up to 42 percent of people who keep drinking alcohol after being diagnosed with alcoholic cardiomyopathy will likely die within three years.4 However, the disease may be reversible if you stop drinking alcohol.

Within six months of stopping alcohol use, you may notice an improvement in heart function and overall health. Within 18 months of abstinence, a complete recovery is likely to occur.4


Alcoholic cardiomyopathy is a condition that weakens your heart and its ability to pump blood. People who suffer from alcohol dependence or alcohol use disorder (AUD) are at risk of developing this condition.

The amount of alcohol consumed and for how long influences the risk of developing alcohol-induced cardiomyopathy. If you want to avoid it, you should stop drinking alcohol.

If left untreated, alcoholic cardiomyopathy can lead to long-term health complications and death. If you see any signs of alcoholic cardiomyopathy, contact emergency medical services immediately.

Updated on September 14, 2023
7 sources cited
Updated on September 14, 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. Dasgupta, A. “The Science of Drinking: How Alcohol Affects Your Body and Mind.” Rowman & Littlefield, 2012.
  2. Know Your Risk for Heart Disease.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019.
  3. Maisch, B. “Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy: The Result of Dosage and Individual Predisposition.” Herz, Springer Medizin, 2016.
  4. Mahmoud et al. “Acute Reversible Left Ventricular Dysfunction Secondary to Alcohol.” The Canadian Journal of Cardiology, 2007.
  5. Shaaban et al. “Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy.” Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022.
  6. Piano. “Alcohol’s Effects on the Cardiovascular System.” Alcohol Res, 2017.
  7. What Is Cardiomyopathy?” National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 2022.
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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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