How Alcohol Can Affect Heart Health

Alcohol is a depressant that can cause an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, and thereby lead to heart disease. By knowing how alcohol can affect your heart health, you can re-evaluate your drinking habits and safeguard your wellbeing.
Alcohol is a depressant that can cause an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, and thereby lead to heart disease. By knowing how alcohol can affect your heart health, you can re-evaluate your drinking habits and safeguard your wellbeing.

The health of your heart is dependent on how smoothly your cardiovascular system runs.

The cardiovascular system consists of your heart, blood vessels, and blood. Your heart pumps blood to deliver nutrients all throughout your body. When you drink alcohol, it is absorbed into your bloodstream through your stomach and small intestine. It is then metabolized in the liver where enzymes breakdown the alcohol. Typically, your liver processes one ounce of liquor each hour. Any additional amounts of alcohol digested will stay in your bloodstream and tissues until it can be processed. Consuming large amounts of alcohol can increase your risk of both short-term and long-term health risks.

Alcohol-related health diseases is a serious issue in Australia. Each year, there are around 5,500 deaths and 157,000 hospital admissions due to alcohol related causes. Although these number have been trending downwards, 20% of people still consume alcohol at unsafe levels . A 2020 study by the Australian Bureau of Statistics found that one in four Australians over the age of 18 consumed levels of alcohol greater than the Australian Adult Alcohol Guideline. This demographic is twice as high compared to adults outside of Australia. This makes Australians susceptible to alcohol related health problems.

Effect of Alcohol on Cardiovascular Health

As with consuming an excess of anything, drinking more than the recommended amount of alcohol can lead to health risks. Excessive alcohol consumption has significant adverse effects to your cardiovascular health in both the short-term and the long-term.

Short-Term Effects

In the short term, too much alcohol in your system can increase your heart rate, cause irregular heartbeat, heighten blood pressure, and weaken your heart.


Drinking alcohol can increase the number of times your heart beats each minute, or Tachycardia. Regular heavy drinking causes problems with the electrical signals that produces heartbeats. Prolonged episodes of tachycardia can cause blood clots that can eventually lead to heart attacks or strokes.

Atrial Fibrillation

Not only does alcohol increase your heartrate, but it can also cause your heart to quiver, or atrial fibrillation. This is also due to the problems with the electric signals producing heartbeats. Atrial fibrillation causes blood to circulate inefficiently, leading to blood clots in the heart. If these clots break off and lodge in an artery, it can cause a stroke or heart attack.

Increased Blood Pressure

Not only does drinking alcohol increase your heart rate, but it also increases your blood pressure as well. This is because alcohol increases the blood levels of the hormone renin, an enzyme that controls your blood pressure. This causes your blood vessels to contract, leading to your blood to pump with more force than usual. High blood pressure can often result in the hardening or thickening of blood vessels. This increases the potential for a heart attack, stroke, and hypertension.


The weakening of your heart muscle, or cardiomyopathy, is caused by high levels of alcohol consumption. Alcohol forces your heart to pump more blood due to the constriction of your blood vessels. This causes your heart to stretch and enlarge, which weakens and damages the organ. Cardiomyopathy can trigger congestive heart failure.

Long-Term Effects

The short-term side effects of drinking alcohol excessively can lead to more dire, permanent health implications. The primary long-term effects of alcohol are heart attacks and strokes.

Heart Attack

A heart attack occurs when the heart can no longer receive oxygen. This happens when an artery supplying oxygen-rich blood to the organ is either constricted or completely cut off. Blood flow can be limited or prevented due to many reasons, including a buildup of plaque, fat, or cholesterol in the arteries. A heart attack can potentially lead to death when not treated immediately.

Excessive alcohol consumption can cause a heart attack through a combination of all the short-term effects. Increased heart rate or irregular heartbeats creates blood clots which can get trapped, blocking oxygen from reaching your heart. Increased blood pressure constricts arteries and thickens blood, which hinders blood flow. Finally, weakened heart muscles causes blood flow throughout the body to be less efficient.


Like a heart attack, a stroke occurs when an artery supplying oxygen-rich blood is constrained or blocked. The main difference, however, is that strokes arise when oxygen cannot reach the brain tissue. Strokes can impair basic motor and sensory functions. It can also result in damage to other body systems, like the skeletal, muscular, respiratory, and urinary systems.

Immediate medical attention following a stroke will prevent widespread brain damage, long-term disability, and death. The two types of strokes that can appear with increased alcohol consumption are the ischemic stroke and haemorrhagic stroke.

Ischemic Stroke

This is the official name of the stroke that results from a physical object blocking oxygen from reaching the brain. When consuming high levels of alcohol, the cumulation of all the short-term effects can significantly heighten the potential for a stroke. Increased heartrate, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, and weakened heart muscles are all contributing factors that prevents oxygen from reaching the brain. This can cause a stroke.

Haemorrhagic Stroke

This type of stroke results from blood entering the brain. This can occur when the arteries supplying oxygen-rich blood to the brain tears or bleeds. High blood pressure caused by increased alcohol consumption causes weak points and ripping on the artery walls. This includes the arteries in the brain, which leads to a haemorrhagic stroke.

Managing Your Drinking for a Healthy Lifestyle

Alcohol is a large part of social culture. Unless you were actively sober, it may be unrealistic to remove it completely from your life. The next best solution would be to manage your drinking. This way you will not be susceptible to the negative side effects of alcohol. Generally, low levels of alcohols have minimal risks. Over two to three drinks a day significantly increases your risk of problems.

The ideal amount of alcohol is one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men. To help you limit your consumption, a good idea would be to buy smaller glasses or mix in sparkling water. If you’ve previously had a stroke, you should wait a minimum of 6 months before drinking alcohol again. When you do, make sure to keep consumption levels low.

Recommended Resources

For more information on the effects of alcohol on your physical and emotional wellbeing, you might like to check out the following articles in our Resource Library:

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