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Alcohol and Heart: Definition, Statistics and Risks

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Author: Thomas Roth

Last Updated: 8/09/2022

Alcohol is a substance that interacts with the entire body, which includes the heart. While alcohol is known to damage the liver, it also damages the heart. In fact, abusing alcohol for many years increases the risk of heart attack by more than 50%. When this is paired with a poor diet and a lack of exercise (not uncommon behaviors among alcoholics) its effects become even more dangerous.

Furthermore, alcohol increases the risk of several other heart problems. These include the risk of stroke, high blood pressure, and cardiomyopathy. That said, studies have also revealed that alcohol has short-term benefits on the heart in small quantities. Read on to learn more about alcohol and its effects on the heart.

What is a Heart Attack?

A heart attack is a medical emergency that occurs when blood flow to the heart is restricted. In the United States, more than 800,000 people have a heart attack every year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s one of the most common causes of death in the country.

Heart attacks happen because a blood clot blocks the flow of blood to the heart from the arteries. These blood clots are typically caused by a buildup of cholesterol, fat, and plaque within the coronary arteries. When blood flow to the heart is blocked, it doesn’t get the oxygen it needs and tissue begins to die. Unfortunately, tissue damage to the heart is often permanent.

It’s also important to note that heart attacks and cardiac arrests are not the same things. A cardiac arrest occurs when the heart suddenly stops beating. However, heart attacks will lead to cardiac arrests in some cases.

While heart attacks are dangerous and fatal when left untreated, there are a few symptoms to look for. These symptoms include chest pain, arm pain (typically on the left side), and abnormal heartbeat.

What is Heart Failure?

Heart failure is a chronic condition that develops when the heart can’t pump blood properly. In the healthcare industry, heart failure is known as congestive heart failure (CHF) and there are two types. The type of heart failure someone has depends on whether the heart has problems with filling or pumping blood.

When the heart fails to fill with enough blood, it’s known as systolic heart failure. Systolic heart failure is dangerous because the heart has less blood to pump around the body. On the other hand, when the heart doesn’t pump blood properly it’s known as diastolic heart failure. In cases of diastolic heart failure, the heart struggles to circulate oxygenated blood through the body.

Heart failure is also a chronic condition. While treatment options exist, the condition doesn’t improve. Instead, individuals have a better time managing the symptoms. The symptoms of heart failure include shortness of breath, fatigue, reduced endurance, and chest pain.

When it comes to the cause of heart failure, the most common causes are heart attack and stroke. Heart attacks cause permanent tissue damage, which makes it harder for the heart to pump enough blood. Clogged arteries and heat problems like cardiomyopathy also increase the risk of heart failure.

How Much Does Alcohol Affect Your Heart?

Studies show that alcohol is linked to heart disease and causes short-term and long-term impacts on the heart. In the short term, alcohol increases heart rate and blood pressure. In the long-term, alcohol raises someone’s resting heart rate, increases blood pressure, and weakens the heart muscle. Alcohol also leads to irregular heartbeat and leads to plaque buildup in arteries.

Alcohol affects the heart in other ways too. For example, long-term alcohol abuse increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, and cardiomyopathy. However, in some cases, alcohol improves heart health when consumed in moderation. Moderation refers to one standard drink for women and two standard drinks for men. One standard drink is one 12-ounce beer, one 6-ounce glass of wine, and a single shot of liquor.

Overall, alcohol abuse increases the risk of cardiovascular disease but moderate alcohol consumption helps the heart. Recent data shows that alcohol reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke by 20% in people who consume around one alcoholic beverage daily or less than 10-12 drinks per week.

How is Drinking Too Much Alcohol a Risk for Heart Disease?

Drinking too much alcohol leads to high blood pressure, strokes, heart attacks, and heart failure. It’s a risk for heart disease because all of these conditions damage the heart over time. High blood pressure influences plaque deposits in coronary arteries and heart attacks damage the heart muscle. Irregular heartbeats and heart failure are also deadly.

Alcohol also damages other organs in the body. When the liver is damaged, for example, the heart needs to work harder. Alcohol also causes a buildup of plaque within the coronary arteries, which increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Drinking too much alcohol also increases the risk of obesity and other health conditions like diabetes. These health conditions strain the heart and increase the risk of heart attack, heart failure, and stroke.

How Much Alcohol is Too Much?

Too much alcohol is more than 8 standard drinks per week for women and more than 15 standard drinks per week for men. That said, there are other factors like binge drinking that influence how much alcohol is too much.

Binge drinking is the process of consuming large quantities of alcohol in a short period. For men, binge drinking happens when more than 5 standard drinks are consumed rapidly (often less than 2 hours). Binge drinking for women, however, occurs when women consume between 3 and 4 alcoholic drinks in a short period.

Too much alcohol for younger age groups is also different. Teenagers who consume alcohol each day have a higher risk of drinking too much alcohol. Also, teenagers are more likely to participate in binge drinking.

How Much Alcohol is Good for Heart Health?

Studies show that 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women is good for heart health. In these studies, people who consume moderate amounts of alcohol have a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. In fact, heart disease becomes 20% less likely in individuals who drink small amounts of alcohol each day.

Alcohol is good for the heart because it thins the blood and raises good cholesterol (HDL). When blood is thinned, especially in adult groups, blood flow is improved. HDL cholesterol also reduces the buildup of LDL (bad cholesterol), which improves heart health.

The positive effects of alcohol on the heart are most common for women and men over the age of 50. Keep in mind that consuming too much alcohol is dangerous, so always consult with a doctor before drinking alcohol to help your heart.

What are Heart Complications Related to Chronic Alcohol Abuse?

Drinking alcohol increases the risk of many types of cardiovascular diseases. Chronic alcohol abuse also damages other organs and makes heart failure more likely.

Below are the heart complications related to alcohol abuse.

  • Heart attack
  • Congestive heart failure (CHF)
  • Clogged arteries (plaque buildup)
  • Stroke
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • Weakened heart muscle
  • Heart muscle tissue damage

These are only a handful of the complications that occur when abusing alcohol. Long-term alcohol abuse also damages other parts of the body, which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease as well.

What are the Statistics for Drinking Alcohol?

There are many statistics for drinking alcohol. On average, 10% of people with a heavy drinking habit show signs of heart injury. Furthermore, almost 50% of people have blood markers that indicate stretching within the heart. Also, 70% of people who abuse alcohol have more signs of heart inflammation and general inflammation.

Some alcoholism statistics also show how dangerous alcoholism is in other ways. Statistics show that more than 1% of the world population has an alcohol disorder. While 1% isn’t the largest number, the numbers are staggering. For example, almost 100,000 people die each year in the United States because of alcohol-related causes.

Alcohol is also the most commonly abused drug in the world. Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows that 85% of people over the age of 18 have at least tried alcohol. Of that 85%, nearly half of everyone surveyed continues to consume alcohol.

Does Alcohol Cause Heart disease?

Yes, alcohol causes heart disease. Alcohol increases blood pressure and causes plaque to build up within the arteries. When this happens, the risk of heart disease increases by more than half. Chronic alcohol abuse also leads to chronic heart disease like congestive heart failure.

Is Alcohol Bad for Your Heart?

Yes, alcohol is bad for your heart. Alcohol is bad for your heart because it makes your heart work harder. When alcohol damages other organs in the body or raises cholesterol levels, it damages the heart. High blood pressure and plaque buildup also damage the heart and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.