The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have found that, on average, 88,000 Americans die every year because of alcohol abuse, from short-term issues like serious accidents and long-term health complications, including liver failure, cancer, and heart disease. Abusing alcohol, whether it is heavy drinking, binge drinking, or alcohol use disorder (AUD), can lead to a heart attack because of extensive damage to the cardiovascular system. Several studies have found that, after accounting for other risk factors like being overweight or smoking, alcohol abuse of any kind increases the risk of a heart attack by 40 percent.
Understand Alcohol Servings and Drinking Levels
It is important to understand different levels of alcohol abuse and how drinking more servings of alcohol than “moderate” drinking can cause physical damage.
The CDC defines standard servings of alcohol as:
- One 12-ounce beer with 5% alcohol content
- One 8-ounce malt liquor at 7% alcohol content
- One 5-ounce glass of wine at 12% alcohol content
- 1.5 ounces of hard liquor, like whiskey or gin, which has 40% alcohol (about 80 proof)
Based on these alcohol servings, binge drinking is defined as:
- Four or more drinks in a two-hour period for women
- Five or more servings of alcohol in a two-hour period for men
Heavy drinking, which is chronic, high-dose alcohol consumption, is defined as:
- Eight or more drinks per week for women, which is just over one drink per day
- 15 or more drinks per week for men, which is just over two drinks per day on average
Alcohol and Heart Disease
Among the many risks the CDC lists as problems associated with any kind of excessive drinking, including AUD, binge drinking, and heavy drinking, heart attacks and heart disease are serious risks. Alcohol abuse of many kinds has been closely correlated with heart attacks from clots, cardiomyopathy, hardened arteries, and more.
A heart attack is defined as an acute medical problem with the heart when the arteries become so blocked that blood flow to the organ has been severely reduced, and the heart does not get needed oxygen when it pumps. This can cause weakened heart muscle, death of heart muscle, and eventually, the organ will stop beating. Heart attacks are deadly. Signs of a heart attack include:
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling weak in the extremities
- Swelling ankles
Can Alcohol Cause a Heart Attack?
Drinking more than three servings of alcohol per day leads to a level of toxic substances in the blood that directly increases the risk of heart attack. Alcohol abuse increases the lipids in the blood, which is a type of fat that can harden arteries, increasing cholesterol and arterial plaque. While moderate drinking may reduce the risk of heart attack for some people because of some relaxing effects, drinking too much, too often will increase the risk of cardiovascular damage, including a deadly heart attack, in anyone.
Types of excessive drinking correlated to a higher risk of heart attack include:
- Binge drinking: Quick, high-volume consumption of alcohol can force you to become rapidly intoxicated, which can cause all kinds of harm to the body. One of the cardiovascular side effects is irregular heart rate. A lot of alcohol all at once can force blood pressure to rise quickly, and this can trigger a heart attack in a person with an underlying heart problem.One research study found that that binge drinking six or more cocktails in one evening, which may be more than six servings of hard liquor due to generous pours in bars, increases the risk of a heart attack or stroke for seven days after the event. The survey found that 2-4 drinks lowered the risk of heart attack or stroke about 30 percent for 24 hours after the drinking event; however, 6-9 drinks increased the risk of heart attack and stroke about 30 percent for the next 24 hours.
- Heavy drinking: While binge drinking can be harmful, heavy drinking is much worse. Chronically drinking too much causes a lot of long-term health problems, including weakening the heart muscle, which leads to cardiomyopathy and sudden heart failure. Enlarged hearts are at more risk of vascular damage and having trouble pumping blood, which can prevent blood from returning, leading to a heart attack. Holiday heart syndrome, which is episodic heavy drinking that is often related to a lot of eating and high-stress events, can lead to irregular breathing, which is a sign of a heart attack.
Abusing alcohol or drinking more than just moderately doubles the risk of heart attack through several factors, both direct and indirect. Alcohol contributes to high blood pressure, doubles the risk of arterial fibrillation (irregular, rapid heartbeat), and brings a 2.3-fold increased risk of congestive heart failure – all this increases the risk of heart attack later in life. Alcohol directly contributes to a 1.4-fold increase in suffering a heart attack.
Prevent Heart Attacks from Alcohol Addiction
The Journal of the American College of Cardiology reported that ending alcohol abuse would prevent 73,000 arterial fibrillations, lead to 34,000 fewer heart attacks, and contribute to 91,000 fewer people with congestive heart failure who require ongoing treatment. However, alcohol withdrawal can also cause heart problems, and the stress may lead to a heart attack. It is better to understand moderate drinking if you want to drink at all.
If you worry about how much you drink, or are beginning to suffer serious side effects from drinking too much, you should get help from a physician or an addiction specialist. Make sure you have a healthy heart by getting regular checkups, and get medical supervision to safely detox from alcohol dependence. Work with an addiction specialist at an evidence-based rehabilitation program to change your behaviors around alcohol and stay sober. Working with a doctor to safely detox will reduce your risk of heart attack while you end your body’s dependence on alcohol. Continuing to work with a physician to stay healthy can manage any chronic cardiovascular problems that may be linked to previous alcohol abuse.