Heart Disease and Alcohol

happy couple walking at the beach

When it comes to alcohol, if you don’t drink already, don’t start. If you do drink alcohol, talk with your doctor about the benefits and risks of consuming alcohol in moderation. Some people should not drink at all, like women who are pregnant or trying to get pregnant, people under the age of 21 and people with certain health conditions.

Drinking too much alcohol can raise the levels of some fats in the blood, known as triglycerides. A high triglyceride level combined with high cholesterol or low HDL (good) cholesterol has been associated with fatty buildup in the artery walls. That, in turn, can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Excessive drinking can also lead to high blood pressure, cardiomyopathy, heart arrhythmia and even death from alcohol poisoning. And it can interfere with the brain’s communication pathways, affecting the way the brain works. Plus, all the extra calories from drinking alcohol can lead to obesity and a higher risk of developing diabetes.

The RWJBarnabas Health Behavioral Health Access Center offers phone and in-person resources to help people overcome alcohol addiction and abuse. Call today at 1-800-300-0628 to talk to a clinician or request a callback to get started.

Understanding Moderate Drinking

The definition of moderate drinking varies, but it is generally considered to be up to one drink per day for women. It's crucial to understand what constitutes a "drink" – approximately 14 grams of pure alcohol, which is found in:

  • 12 ounces of beer (5 percent alcohol content)
  • 5 ounces of wine (12 percent alcohol content)
  • 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (40 percent alcohol content)

The American Heart Association alcohol recommendations do not include drinking wine or any other form of alcohol to gain potential health benefits. Instead, take steps to lower cholesterol, control high blood pressure, manage weight, get enough physical activity, stay away from tobacco, and follow a healthy diet. Consider participating in RWJBarnabas Health wellness events designed to keep you healthy.

Risks of Excessive Alcohol Consumption

Excessive drinking can lead to several heart-related problems, including:

  • Increased blood pressure. Alcohol consumption can lead to elevated blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease.
  • Heart muscle damage. Heavy drinking over time can weaken the heart muscle, leading to a condition known as alcoholic cardiomyopathy.
  • Irregular heartbeats. Excessive alcohol intake can cause arrhythmias, which are irregular heartbeats that can lead to serious complications.

How to Cut Down on Drinking

If you feel you are drinking too much, here are tips that can help you cut down on the amount of alcohol you are consuming:

  • Keep track. Keep track of how much you drink. Some examples include a drinking tracker card in your wallet, check marks on a kitchen calendar, notes on a mobile phone, notepad, or personal digital assistant. Making a note of each drink before you drink it may help you slow down when needed.
  • Count and measure. Know the standard drink sizes so you can count your drinks accurately.
  • Set goals. Decide how many days a week you want to drink and how many drinks you'll have on those days. Having some days when you don't drink is a good idea.
  • Find alternatives. If drinking has occupied a lot of your time, then fill your free time by developing new healthy activities, hobbies and relationships or renewing ones you've missed.
  • Avoid triggers. What triggers your urge to drink? If certain people or places make you drink even when you don't want to, try to avoid them. If certain activities, times of day, or feelings trigger the urge, plan something else to do instead of drinking.
  • Plan to handle urges. When you cannot avoid a trigger and an urge hits, consider these options: Remind yourself of your reasons for changing; talk things through with someone you trust; get involved with a healthy, distracting activity such as physical exercise or a hobby that doesn't involve drinking; or instead of fighting the feeling, accept it and ride it out without giving in, knowing that it will soon pass.
  • Know your no. You'll likely be offered a drink when you don't want one. Have a polite, convincing "no, thanks" ready. The faster you can say no to these offers, the less likely you are to give in. If you hesitate, it allows you time to think of excuses to go along.

Women, Heart Disease and Alcohol

3 women drinking water together and smiling, after exercising

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women worldwide. Lifestyle choices, including alcohol consumption, play a significant role in heart health. Understanding the connection between women's heart health and alcohol is essential for making informed decisions about your health.

Women metabolize alcohol differently from men, leading to higher concentrations of alcohol in the bloodstream and a greater risk of heart damage. Factors such as hormonal differences and typically lower body water content in women contribute to these effects.

For women concerned about heart health, following these guidelines can help manage the risks associated with alcohol consumption:

  • Limit alcohol intake to no more than one drink per day.
  • Consider the cumulative effect of alcohol consumption throughout the week.
  • Consult with a health care provider about alcohol use and its impact on heart health, especially for those with existing heart conditions or risk factors.

Benefits of Reducing Alcohol Intake

Some immediate benefits include feeling better in the morning, being less tired during the day, having better-looking skin, feeling more energetic and better weight management.

Some of the long-term benefits of reducing your alcohol consumption include:

  • Mood. There's a strong link between heavy drinking and depression, and hangovers often make you feel anxious and low. If you already feel worried or sad, drinking can make this worse, so cutting down may put you in a better mood generally.
  • Sleep. Drinking can affect your sleep. Although it can help some people fall asleep quickly, it can disrupt your sleep patterns and prevent you from sleeping deeply. So, reducing alcohol should help you feel more rested when you wake up.
  • Behavior. Drinking can affect your judgment and behavior. You may behave irrationally or aggressively when you're drunk. Memory loss can be a problem during drinking and in the long term for regular heavy drinkers.
  • Heart. Long-term heavy drinking can lead to your heart becoming enlarged. This is a serious condition that can't be completely reversed, but stopping drinking can stop it getting worse.
  • Immune system. Regular drinking can affect your body’s ability to fight infections. Heavy drinkers tend to catch more infectious diseases.

Concerned about alcohol consumption and how it affects your heart’s health? Make an appointment with an RWJBarnabas Health cardiologist today.

Request an Appointment

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