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The Effect of Alcoholism on the Heart

Moderate alcohol intake–meaning maybe one or two drinks per day–is not likely to damage the heart and some studies suggest it might actually have some benefit. Drinking a bit more tips the scale toward negative effects and heavy prolonged drinking can do serious damage to the heart.

In the short term, even one bout of binge drinking can negatively affect the heart. Binge drinking can disrupt the heart’s rhythm, making it beat irregularly. This can feel like a heart attack, with chest pain and shortness of breath. If you already have a heart condition, this arrhythmia can actually cause a heart attack, possibly a fatal one.

Regular heavy drinking can cause episodes of heartbeats that are too fast, too slow, or irregular. Occasional irregular heartbeat is not especially dangerous, but frequent episodes increase risk of blood clots, which can cause heart attack or stroke. One particularly bad sort of arrhythmia is atrial fibrillation. This is when the upper chambers of the heart quiver rather than beat. This allows blood to pool and clot in the atria. The clots leaving the heart can then cause an ischemic stroke by blocking arteries in the brain.

Heavy prolonged alcohol consumption can lead to high blood pressure, which is one the biggest risk factors for heart attack and hemorrhagic stroke. Drinking causes a temporary increase in blood pressure. If you drink often enough, the arteries begin to harden which causes a permanent increase in blood pressure. Excessive drinking can also lead to weight gain, which increases blood pressure and stress on the heart.

Heavy drinking eventually weakens the heart muscle, a condition called cardiomyopathy. The heart becomes enlarged and unable to pump blood adequately. This condition is called congestive heart failure.

The good news is that much of the heart damage caused by alcohol is reversible. When you stop drinking, blood pressure starts to drop, arrhythmias become less frequent, and arteries begin to heal. The extent to which you can recover depends on how long and how heavily you drank. If you reach the point of cardiomyopathy there might not be much you can do, but up to that point, improvement is possible, even if it requires some medical intervention. The sooner you quit, the better the chances you can recover from the damage.

Heart problems are only a small part of the damage alcoholism can do to your body and your life. If you need help quitting, Gardens Wellness Center can help you detox and make a plan for treatment. Call us today at 844-828-1050 or email us at to learn more.