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  • Heavy alcohol use can cause all kinds of issues in the body whether they be physical or mental, including in the heart. 

    The heart can be damaged by excessive drinking and cause a heart attack. But it can affect the heart in other ways as well. 

    While small amounts of alcohol can possibly help your heart, the harm that can be done if you drink too much can be fatal.

    Heavy Alcohol Use & The Heart

    Heavy alcohol use is defined as eight or more drinks per week for women or 15 or more drinks per week for men. This level of alcohol intake can cause all sorts of heart issues, including heart disease and heart attacks.

    Alcohol & Heart Disease

    Heart disease includes a number of different conditions like coronary heart disease, which is the most common condition that can lead to sudden death. 

    Coronary heart disease is caused by the build-up of fatty deposits on the walls of the coronary arteries that then form blood clots and cause the heart to stop working properly.

    Heavy alcohol consumption can also lead to high blood pressure, heart failure, hardened arteries, and even a stroke. It can also cause cardiomyopathy which weakens the heart muscle and can have fatal consequences. 

    Heavy alcohol use can also contribute to obesity which can lead to those fatty deposits that block the walls of the arteries and bring on many cardiovascular diseases.

    Alcohol & Heart Attacks

    Heart attacks are one of the most common symptoms or results of heart disease. Once an artery is blocked, it can’t get oxygen, can’t pump properly, and ultimately, in severe cases, will stop the heart altogether and lead to death. 

    Heavy drinking leads to a toxic level of substances in the blood and that toxicity increases the risk of a heart attack. Additionally, alcohol abuse increases the lipids in the blood and those lipids can harden the heart, increase cholesterol, and cause build-up that leads to clotting.  

    Chronically drinking too much also causes damage to blood vessels, weakening of the heart muscle, and sudden heart failure.

    Abusing alcohol can contribute to high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation, and increase the risk of congestive heart failure. All these things increase the risk of a heart attack, especially later in life. 

    Binge-Drinking & Heart Problems

    Binge drinking can also cause heart problems. It can cause an irregular heartbeat (also known as arrhythmias), increase in blood pressure, and trigger a heart attack in someone who already has heart issues or other health problems.  

    Binge drinking is defined as:

    • Four or more drinks in a two-hour period for women
    • Five or more drinks in a two-hour period for men

    Studies have also found that binge-drinking six or more drinks in one evening can increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke for up to 7 days after the drinking event.

    Signs & Symptoms Of A Heart Attack

    Some of the signs and symptoms associated with a heart attack may include:

    • increased blood pressure/hypertension
    • pain in the chest, neck, back, or arms
    • fatigue
    • lightheadedness
    • abnormal heartbeat
    • abnormal heart rate
    • shortness of breath
    • dizziness
    • cold sweat
    • nausea
    • anxiety

    How Much Alcohol Is Too Much?

    When trying to make good choices for your heart health, it’s important to know how much alcohol is heavy use and how much is low or moderate. 

    The best thing for your heart is not drinking alcohol at all or only in small amounts, but there is a standard for what is considered a moderate drink.

    Moderate Drinking

    Moderate drinking is defined as one drink per day for women and one or two drinks per day for men. The CDC defines a drink as:

    • one 12-ounce beer with 5% alcohol content
    • one 8-ounce malt liquor at 7% alcohol content
    • one 5-ounce glass of wine at 12% alcohol content
    • 1.5 ounces of hard liquor at 40% alcohol content or 80 proof 

    Preventing An Alcohol-Related Heart Attack

    If you’re struggling with alcohol abuse, the best way to prevent a heart attack is to stop drinking entirely. But it’s more complicated than just quitting—one of the withdrawal symptoms when quitting alcohol is heart problems, and seeking treatment is likely your best option.

    Inpatient treatment may include a detox program that can help you withdraw from alcohol while being supervised by healthcare professionals. When a withdrawal symptom occurs, they can give you medication to make you more comfortable. 

    If you or a loved one struggles with alcohol addiction, call our helpline today.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2023 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.

    Alcohol Research - Alcohol’s Effects on the Cardiovascular System
    American Heart Association - Heavy drinking may cause heart damage before symptoms appear
    Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) - Alcohol Use and Your Health
    Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) - Dietary Guidelines for Alcohol
    Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) - Excessive Alcohol Use

    Medically Reviewed by
    Manish Mishra, MBBS
    on September 30, 2021
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