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What Happens to Your Heart When You Drink Alcohol

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You’ve certainly heard that red wine is good for your heart—but is that the case with all types of alcohol? Here’s a look at what happens to your heart when you consume beer, liquor, or wine.

Before we get into what science says about how your heart is affected by drinking too much alcohol, let’s first define what “too much” is: According to the 2020-2025 dietary guidelines for Americans, alcohol is a beverage to limit in your diet. If you choose to drink, moderate drinking is defined as a limit of 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women. (Related: The Biggest Danger Sign You’re Drinking Too Much Alcohol, Say Doctors.)

A drink is defined as 12 fluid ounces of beer at 4.2% alcohol by volume (like a Budweiser), 5 fluid ounces of wine at 12% alcohol by volume, and 1.5 fluid ounces 80-proof distilled spirits 40% alcohol by volume. This means that if you are taking in “craft” alcoholic beverages and the percent alcohol by volume is higher, you could be taking in more than 1 serving. Some craft beers can have so much alcohol by volume that it equates to three servings of alcohol! Drinking too much alcohol certainly can have some serious health consequences—especially on your heart. Read on, and for more on how to eat healthy, don’t miss 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now.

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Research has shown that drinking too much alcohol is associated with high blood pressure. Although the mechanism of action is still being studied, research does show that having more than three drinks in one sitting can raise blood pressure. When this is done repeatedly over a long period of time, it can increase blood pressure long-term.

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Cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart (a muscle) that makes it harder for the heart to pump blood to the rest of the body. This can be caused by drinking too much alcohol over a long period of time. Eventually, the drinking weakens and thins the heart muscle, affecting its ability to pump blood. Once your heart can’t pump blood properly it can cause issues with other major body functions. Over the long term, it can lead to heart failure and other life-threatening health issues.

Read more: The Worst Types of Drinks for Your Heart Health, Science Says

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Binge drinking may increase the risk for atrial fibrillation, the most common type of irregular heartbeat. (According to the American Heart Association, binge drinking defined as having five or more drinks in two hours for men and four or more drinks for women.) Some research has shown that having between one to three drinks a day may increase the risk for atrial fibrillation. Symptoms of atrial fibrillation include fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath, chest pain, and heart palpitations. If it is not treated, it can lead to serious health complications.

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According to the American Heart Association, drinking too much alcohol can raise the levels of fats in the blood known as triglycerides. Having high triglycerides combined with high LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol and low HDL (or “good”) cholesterol can potentially lead to fatty build-up in the artery walls, which can increase the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

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At least there’s one silver lining! Research has shown that there is an association between red wine and heart health. For example, a review published in Circulation found that consuming red wine may lower the risk of dying from heart disease. Of course, this still means that if you choose to drink red wine, then consume it in moderation as outlined above. And for more, check out 12 Surprising Health Benefits of Red Wine.

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