The Effects of Alcohol on the Heart

Excess alcohol consumption is one of the leading substance abuse disorders around the world.

As of 2018, roughly 14.4 million adults over age 18 met the criteria for an alcohol use disorder, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Over 400,000 adolescents between the ages of 12-17 also struggled with alcohol abuse. 

Alcohol is a depressant and it affects a person’s mood, emotions, and behaviors. Most people know that drinking alcohol has a significant impact on the brain, triggering the reward system which creates feelings of pleasure and euphoria. However, fewer people know that alcohol also affects the heart, and can cause severe damage to the cardiovascular system.

How Does Alcohol Affect the Heart?

On its own, alcoholism can be fatal. One study found that nearly 73,000 people died in the U.S due to liver disease and other alcohol-related illnesses in 2017. It also has a significant impact on cardiovascular function.

Alcohol consumption has both short-term and long-term side effects on the heart. The short-term side effects of alcohol consumption include increased heart rate, high blood pressure, and possibly heart palpitations. Once the alcohol is fully metabolized by the liver and leaves the bloodstream, the person’s blood pressure and heart rate go back to normal.

For people who have been drinking heavily for many years, it’s a much different story. Heavy drinkers don’t bounce back as quickly as occasional drinkers because their heart is already damaged. Heavy drinking increases a person’s risk for serious cardiovascular problems, including heart attacks, cardiomyopathy, and coronary artery disease.

Research also shows that heavy drinkers have a higher risk of developing certain cancers, liver disease, and other chronic illnesses that cause irreversible damage, and can be fatal in some cases. Although an alcoholic may never develop heart disease, it doesn’t mean they aren’t at risk for other deadly health conditions.

10 Signs Drinking is Affecting your Life

Alcohol affects the heart in many different ways. Most of these issues either directly or indirectly contribute to the development of chronic heart conditions. Some of the most common alcohol-related cardiovascular issues include:


  1. Rapid heart rate: Drinking large amounts of alcohol can change the way the heart beats. Studies show that heavy drinking can cause episodes of tachycardia, which is when the heart beats too fast. Depending on the frequency and severity of tachycardia, it can lead to the development of blood clots that may cause a heart attack or stroke.
  2. High blood pressure: Drinking alcohol on a regular basis can cause a person to develop hypertension, the medical term for high blood pressure. Over time, high blood pressure can cause the walls of arteries to harden or thicken, which can increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, and coronary artery disease.
  3. Weakened heart muscle: Heavy drinking has been shown to cause damage to the heart muscle, which is a condition known as cardiomyopathy. When someone has a weak heart muscle, the heart isn’t able to pump enough blood for the whole body. Over time, this can lead to congestive heart failure.
  4. Irregular heartbeat: Changes in heartbeat and rhythm, also known as arrhythmias, are often caused by excessive alcohol consumption. In occasional drinkers, experiencing irregular heartbeat is usually temporary. However, heavy drinkers may suffer from severe arrhythmias which can lead to cardiac arrest and stroke.
  5. Atrial fibrillation: Atrial fibrillation is one form of arrhythmia that causes the heart to quiver rather than beat as it normally would. This can cause poor circulation, including blood pooling and clotting in severe cases. If a blood clot breaks off and gets lodged in an artery, it can cause a stroke.
  6. Heart attack: Excessive drinking, including binge drinking, is linked to an increased risk of a heart attack. Drinking large amounts of alcohol causes the blood pressure to rise quickly, and coupled with an irregular heartbeat, can trigger a heart attack, even in people who don’t have other underlying conditions.
  7. Enlarged heart: When someone drinks heavily over a long period of time, the heart muscle weakens, and starts holding onto the blood it can’t pump out quickly enough. Over time, the heart can become enlarged and stop functioning properly.

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

Can the Heart Recover After Prolonged Alcohol Abuse?

Effects of Alcohol on the heart

When a person stops drinking alcohol completely, their heart muscle has the chance to strengthen and will gradually improve over time. However, some heart diseases are chronic, which means a person will never fully recover, even if they quit drinking. Overcoming serious cardiovascular illnesses usually requires medications, lifestyle changes, and sometimes surgery. Quitting alcohol is only one part of recovery.

Heart conditions should be addressed by a medical doctor or cardiologist. Most treatment programs involve regular clinical visits, CT scans, and blood work. At the same time, people who are struggling with alcoholism or heavy drinking should seek addiction treatment at a licensed facility.

Getting Treatment for Alcoholism

Alcoholism is a treatable disease, but it does require professional treatment and intervention. It can be extremely difficult for someone to successfully stop drinking on their own given the side effects of withdrawal. It’s never recommended for people with severe cases of alcoholism to quit drinking “cold turkey” because of the possibility of life-threatening complications.

Nexus Recovery specializes in alcohol addiction treatment. Our approach to treatment includes a combination of evidence-based therapies and holistic treatments that heal the mind, body, and soul together. Our mission is to provide tools and support for every client’s seamless transition into a meaningful and fulfilling life of sobriety.

Clients in our addiction treatment programs participate in a variety of groups and activities, including individual therapy, group therapy, 12-step meetings, nutrition sessions, mindfulness and spiritual counseling, group outings, life skills training, relapse prevention, and much more.

If you or a loved one are suffering from alcohol addiction, contact our team today at (310) 881-9151 to learn more about Nexus Recovery and our substance abuse treatment programs.

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

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