How Alcohol Affects the Heart

Drinking alcohol is often seen as a way to relax, unwind, and loosen up in social settings.

A glass of wine with dinner or a beer at a baseball game has become commonplace in our society. For those who drink alcohol, it’s hard to imagine a world without it.

Millions of people drink alcohol every day with no forethought about the potential risks. We forget that alcohol is a drug, and it can be lethal if it’s abused. In fact, data shows that alcohol is the third-leading cause of preventable death in the United States.

Alcohol is a depressant that affects a person’s mood, emotions, and behavior. Drinking alcohol causes the brain to release dopamine, which creates that euphoric feeling and leaves the person with a “buzz.” Alcohol consumption affects the brain’s ability to control behavior, thinking, motion, and speech, but it also has a negative impact on the heart.

Statistics on Alcohol Use

Alcohol is one of the most widely abused substances in the world.

Unlike illegal drugs, alcohol is easily accessible and very affordable. A 2015 study from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) found that over 86% of adults have drunk alcohol at some point during their lifetime.

Heavy and prolonged alcohol use, especially in response to stress or trauma, can quickly turn into an alcohol addiction. Roughly 14.4 million Americans age 18 and older meet the criteria for an alcohol use disorder (AUD). Young adults who start drinking in their teenage years are the most likely to develop an AUD later in life.

how alcohol affects the heart

The risk of alcohol abuse differs significantly by gender. Men are more likely to drink alcohol, but women who drink heavily experience much more severe consequences. Data suggests that women who are addicted to alcohol are between 50-100% more likely to die from alcohol-related causes compared to men who abuse alcohol.

Drinking alcohol in excess is never harmless, even if you don’t experience adverse effects right away. The immediate side effects of alcohol, like a hangover, are enough to set you back temporarily. But over the long-term, alcohol can lead to a number of serious illnesses, including chronic heart issues.

The Link Between Alcohol and Heart Disease

Heavy drinking has been shown to impact the cardiovascular system in a number of ways.

When someone drinks alcohol, their heart rate and blood pressure temporarily rise. With prolonged alcohol use, their heart rate and blood pressure can permanently increase, leading to a weakened heart muscle and irregular heartbeat. The consequences of an elevated heart rate and blood pressure include heart attack and stroke.

Binge drinking in particular is very harmful to the heart because it can produce an arrhythmia. An arrhythmia is a change in the heart’s rhythm, and it’s caused by blocked signals, abnormal pathways, and stimulants that throw off the heart’s electrical system. Arrhythmias and other cardiac rhythm disturbances are directly linked to heavy alcohol use.

For some people, drinking alcohol can lead to cardiomyopathy, which is a weakening of the heart muscle. Cardiomyopathy occurs when the heart muscle isn’t strong enough to supply adequate blood flow to the body. This disease can lead to congestive heart failure and an enlarged heart.

Another thing to consider is that drinking alcohol often causes weight gain. Many alcoholic drinks are high in calories and contain a lot of sugar. When someone gains weight, it puts a strain on their heart and forces it to work harder to pump blood throughout the body. Being overweight increases the risk of having a heart attack, and is a risk factor for stroke and diabetes.

If you or a loved one are struggling with alcohol abuse or addiction, we’re here to help. Contact us today and speak with one of our trusted recovery advisors.

Is Alcohol-related Heart Disease Curable?

Unfortunately, most alcohol-related heart diseases are not curable, but most are treatable. Conditions like high blood pressure and arrhythmia are relatively common, and the symptoms can be managed with a combination of medications and lifestyle changes.

However, a heavy drinker who is dealing with a heart condition will need to address their alcohol use before they can get medical treatment. It’s likely that their heart condition was caused or exaggerated by their alcohol use. Many heart disease patients need to give up alcohol completely in order to treat their cardiovascular disease.

When someone stops using alcohol, their heart muscle will slowly get stronger over time, and some of their cardiovascular issues will improve or resolve on their own. But without treatment, many alcohol-related heart issues can be fatal, or significantly reduce someone’s life expectancy.

Other Alcohol-related Health Issues

Heart disease is a leading cause of death in the United States. However, heavy drinkers also increase their risk of developing a lot of other serious illnesses, many of which can be fatal. Here are some of the other chronic health conditions that are fueled by alcohol abuse:

  • Stroke
  • Liver disease
  • Dementia
  • Cancer
  • Gastrointestinal disease
  • Pancreatitis
  • Weakened immune response
  • Osteoporosis
  • Anemia

Getting Treatment for Alcohol Abuse

Alcoholism is a serious disorder that requires professional treatment. It’s not recommended for heavy drinkers to stop drinking suddenly because it can lead to serious side effects, including nutrient depletion, confusion, dehydration, and even death. Getting treatment at an alcohol detox center is the safest and most comfortable way to go through withdrawal.

At Nexus Recovery, our alcohol addiction treatment program is monitored by healthcare professionals and therapists who specialize in addiction medicine and recovery. During treatment, clients receive the tools and support they need to focus on their recovery and establish healthy habits.

Depending on the severity of the client’s addiction, we offer a Partial Hospitalization Program, Intensive Outpatient Program, and an Outpatient Program that includes a wide range of programming and treatment modalities. In addition to individual therapy sessions, every client has the opportunity to participate in mindfulness counseling, health and nutrition courses, group outings, goal setting, family therapy, and more.

If you or someone you love is struggling with alcoholism, they can get the help they need at Nexus Recovery. Call us at 310-881-9151 for a free consultation with one of our recovery advisors.

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