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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

May 29, 2024

Table of Contents

There is a growing body of evidence indicating that no level of alcohol consumption is safe for heart health. Consuming even small amounts of alcohol can increase the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, which affect the heart and blood vessels. This guide to heart damage from alcohol addresses the following issues:

  • Alcohol and heart disease: what’s the link?
  • How are alcohol and heart failure related?
  • Does alcohol cause heart disease and heart attack?
  • Alcoholism and heart disease: is it reversible?

Alcohol Effects on the Heart

Alcohol consumption, especially in excessive amounts, can have several detrimental effects on the heart, impacting its function and overall health. Here are some of the main ways in which alcohol adversely affects the heart:

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  • Blood pressure: Regular heavy drinking may lead to spikes in blood pressure, a leading risk factor for heart attack and stroke.
  • Heart rhythm disorders: Alcohol can cause irregular heartbeats or arrhythmias, including conditions like atrial fibrillation, which can increase the risk of stroke and heart failure.
  • Cardiomyopathy and alcohol: Chronic alcohol abuse may trigger cardiomyopathy. This condition involves weakening of the heart muscles to the extent that it’s unable to pump blood efficiently, potentially leading to heart failure.
  • Coronary artery disease: Excessive alcohol intake can contribute to the build-up of plaques in the coronary arteries, raising the risk of coronary artery disease, which can lead to heart attacks.
  • Impact on triglycerides and cholesterol: Alcohol can raise the levels of triglycerides (a type of fat) in the blood and affect cholesterol levels, both of which are risk factors for heart disease.
  • Alcohol’s caloric content: Alcoholic beverages are often high in calories, which can contribute to weight gain and obesity, further increasing the risk of heart disease.

Moderation is key when it comes to alcohol consumption. While some studies suggest that light to moderate drinking might have a protective effect on the heart, the potential risks often outweigh these benefits. It is important for people, especially those with existing heart conditions or high risk factors for cardiovascular disease, to consult with healthcare professionals about their alcohol intake. It is also worth becoming familiar with the signs of heart disease from alcohol.

Can Alcohol Cause Heart Problems?

Alcohol, particularly when consumed in large quantities, can be a significant factor in the development of heart problems. Heavy and prolonged alcohol use has a direct impact on heart health. It can be a primary cause of certain heart diseases, rather than just a contributing factor.

In addition to long-term effects, acute alcohol consumption, such as binge drinking, can also trigger immediate heart problems, including episodes of arrhythmia or acute myocardial infarction (heart attack).

For anyone questioning can alcohol cause heart disease, it may be a risk factor for diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity, increasing the overall risk of developing heart problems. People with a family history of heart disease or those who have pre-existing heart conditions are more susceptible to the harmful effects of alcohol on the heart.

In some cases, reducing alcohol intake or abstaining can lead to a significant improvement in heart health and may reverse some of the damage caused by alcohol.

For anyone concerned about their heart health, or those with existing heart issues, limit or avoid alcohol and seek guidance from healthcare professionals.

woman looking out a window representing alcohol induced heart attack

Can Alcohol Cause Heart Attack?

For anyone wondering can drinking cause a heart attack, alcohol-induced heart attack may occur, although it is uncommon. While moderate alcohol consumption may have some protective effects for certain individuals, excessive drinking significantly increases the risk. Here’s how alcohol could lead to a heart attack:

  • Impact on coronary arteries: Heavy drinking can lead to the accumulation of plaque in the coronary arteries. This buildup narrows the arteries, restricting blood flow and potentially leading to a heart attack.
  • Triggering acute events: Binge drinking can trigger acute cardiovascular events, including heart attacks. This is due to its immediate impact on blood pressure, heart rhythm, and blood clotting mechanisms.
  • Exacerbating existing conditions: For anyone with existing heart conditions, such as coronary artery disease, alcohol can exacerbate these conditions, increasing the risk of a heart attack.
  • Interaction with risk factors: Alcohol consumption can interact with other heart attack risk factors, like high blood pressure, obesity, and high cholesterol levels, amplifying the overall risk.
  • Alcohol-induced cardiomyopathy: Chronic heavy drinking can lead to alcoholic cardiomyopathy, weakening the heart muscle and impairing its ability to pump blood. This condition can culminate in heart failure and increase the risk of a heart attack.

Individuals with a history of heart problems or those at risk should consult with healthcare professionals regarding safe levels of alcohol consumption.

Can Heart Damage from Alcohol be Reversed?

The potential for reversing heart damage caused by alcohol largely depends on the extent of the damage and the person’s overall health. In many cases, especially if the damage is identified early and alcohol consumption is significantly reduced or stopped, there is a possibility for at least partial recovery.

  • Early intervention: Recognizing and addressing alcohol-induced heart damage early can lead to significant improvements. The heart has a limited capacity to heal and removing the stressor of alcohol can aid in this process.
  • Lifestyle changes: Alongside abstaining from alcohol, adopting a healthy lifestyle can enhance heart recovery. This includes a balanced diet, regular exercise, and avoiding tobacco.
  • Managing co-occurring conditions: Treatment of conditions related to heart health, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol, helps in supporting heart recovery.
  • Cardiac rehabilitation: In cases of severe damage, such as alcoholic cardiomyopathy, cardiac rehabilitation programs can be beneficial. These programs typically involve supervised exercise, education about heart-healthy living, and counseling.
  • Regular medical monitoring: Regular follow-up with healthcare providers is advisable to monitor heart function and ensure appropriate management of any ongoing risks.
  • Limitations in reversibility: While lifestyle changes and abstention may lead to improvements, some forms of heart damage, especially those that are more advanced, may not be completely reversible.

Anyone who experiences alcohol-related heart damage should work closely with healthcare professionals to understand the extent of their condition and the best strategies for recovery and ongoing health maintenance.

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Get Treatment for Alcohol Addiction at Renaissance Recovery

If you are one of the millions of people in the U.S. battling alcohol use disorder, reach out to Renaissance Recovery for evidence-based alcohol addiction treatment in Southern California. For those who are alcohol-dependent, we can help you find detox services near you, streamlining your withdrawal process and entry into ongoing outpatient treatment at Renaissance in Huntington Beach, CA.

Our intensive outpatient treatment programs allow you to engage with addiction treatment at a suitable level of intensity without neglecting your everyday obligations.

All addictions are unique, so all Renaissance treatment programs reflect this by delivering personalized care that may include any of the following interventions:

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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