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Does Alcohol Cause Heart Disease? (Science in 2019)

According to a 2015 study released by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes each year. Since alcohol is the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States, it speaks volumes about why someone should get help if they’re struggling with an alcohol use disorder (AUD).

The same study lists that nearly 15.1 million adults 18 and older struggled with an alcohol use disorder, and a mere 6.7 percent of them received treatment. Alcohol misuse costs the U.S. roughly $249 billion each year, and three-quarters of those costs are related to binge drinking.

Those who consume small amounts of alcohol socially are less susceptible to severe health disorders that alcoholism causes. However, they are still prone to getting into deadly car accidents if they do not drink responsibly. Alcohol can be harmful even for those who drink once a year because that one time they get behind the wheel could be their last. Unfortunately, those who drink frequently increase these odds significantly. They also increase the damage that is done to their body.

We are familiar with the role alcohol plays in our body when it comes to our liver, brain, and other parts of our body. But what role does alcohol play in heart disease? You may be under the impression that a few drinks may be good for your heart. This is not true for everyone. Alcohol may help your heart by raising HDL, stopping blood from clotting, and prevent damage caused by LDL.  Doctors warn, though, that a healthy diet and regular exercise can provide these same effects. Let’s take a more in-depth look of alcohol’s role in our body.

What Is Alcohol?

The primary psychoactive ingredient in alcoholic beverages is ethanol. It is produced by yeast that digests the sugar in carb-rich foods, such as grapes to make wine, and grains used to make beer. Alcohol is a prevalent psychoactive substance worldwide and can have powerful effects on someone’s mood and mental state.

Alcohol can cause a reduction in self-consciousness, shyness, and make someone feel less inhibited. When inhibitions are lowered, and judgment is impaired, it can promote behavior that someone ends up regretting the next day. Some may drink in small amounts, but others tend to binge drink. Binge drinking involves consuming mass amounts at a time to achieve a state of intoxication. It can also cause severe problems in the heart.

Alcohol and Heart Palpitations

A heart palpitation happens when your heart skips a beat in its normal rhythm and adds an extra beat. Individuals affected by this problem can experience a racing heart. More often than not, palpitations are harmless and disappear shortly.

Those who consume one to three standard servings of hard alcohol or wine per day can develop atrial fibrillation that is accompanied by palpitations. While moderate beer consumption is not shown to increase the risks, it should still be monitored. When excessive amounts of alcohol are consumed, all alcohol types will contribute to the development of the condition.

Chronic heavy drinking can also lead to ventricular tachycardia, which affects the heart’s lower chambers. The symptoms of alcohol-induced ventricular tachycardia are similar to the core symptoms of atrial fibrillation. In its most severe form, these cases can lead to heart stoppage or death.

Alcohol and Heart Rate

Alcohol is considered a central nervous system (CNS) depressant, which means it can slow down your heart rate. Depending on how much is consumed at one time, it can lead to a form of rapid heart rate known as supraventricular tachycardia (SVT).

SVT can occur when electrical signals in the heart controlling the two upper chambers do not fire when they are expected. The altered timing can lead to a rapid heart rate exceeding 100 beats per minute. Alcohol-related increases in heart rate may occur temporarily in someone who takes part in binge drinking. Long-term problems can affect the hearts of chronic heavy drinkers.

Alcohol and Heart Attack

Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol has been shown to increase the risks of having a heart attack. Those who habitually expose themselves to large amounts of alcohol increase the chances of a heart attack due to:

  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • High levels of triglyceride

More than 14 million adults took part in a study about how their drinking affected cardiac health, and one portion of this study measured the odds of having a heart attack. There was an increased risk of a heart attack in those who drank excessively, even in the absence of other factors that make heart attacks more likely to occur.

Long-Term Drinking Can Cause Heart Disease

Drinking excessively over a long period can increase your risk of developing heart disease. It does so by increasing your blood pressure and weakening the heart muscles, which means your heart does not pump blood as efficiently. The phenomenon, known as cardiomyopathy, can cause death through heart failure.

Those who consume large amounts of alcohol should consider the prospect of slowing down or stopping altogether. If you find yourself unable to do so, it could indicate that you’ve developed an alcohol use disorder. Reaching out for professional help maybe your best option to decrease the chance of heart disease, and saving yourself from the misery of an alcohol addiction.

Sources

Alcohol Facts and Statistics. (2018, August 12). from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics

Alcohol use disorder. (2018, July 11). from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alcohol-use-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20369243

Alcohol and Health: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. (n.d.). from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/alcohol-good-or-bad#section2

Mukherjee, S. (2013, August). Alcoholism and its effects on the central nervous system. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23713737

Wannamethee, G., & Shaper, A. G. (1992, November). Alcohol and sudden cardiac death. from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1467026

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