Over time, alcohol addiction can seriously harm the hearts of heavy drinkers. The publicity given in recent years to likely protective effects on the heart of moderate alcohol consumption has probably confused many people and led some to believe that drinking more than is recommended won’t be bad for them. But the evidence is overwhelming that the heart is damaged by consumption of excessive amounts of alcohol. Women especially are at risk because just more than one drink a day is heavy drinking for them while more than two drinks a day is alcohol abuse for men.
Recommendations on Alcohol Consumption to Avoid Harm
The American Heart Association advises that if a person doesn’t drink now he or she shouldn’t start. But those who already drink should observe the following limits, which are considered safe:
Men under 65: a maximum of two drinks per day
Women and men 65 or older: a maximum of one drink per day
A (standard) drink in the U.S. according to the American Heart Association is any of the following:
- 12-ounce beer
- 4 ounces of wine
- 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits or 1 ounce of 100-proof spirits
Alcohol is metabolized slower by women and older adults, thus the different limits above. Also, some experts recommend that a drinker should abstain from drinking any alcohol at all on one or two days a week, to make sure an addiction and loss of control don’t develop. People who can’t do that may already have an alcohol problem.
Of course, no one should drive after consuming alcohol because it remains in the bloodstream for so long, partially incapacitating a person’s reaction time and judgment.
Harmful Effects of Alcohol Addiction on the Heart
There are a number of cardiovascular risks connected with drinking alcohol. These include:
- High blood fats such as triglycerides
- High blood pressure
- Heart failure
- Cardiomyopathy (enlarged heart)
- Cardiac arrhythmia
- Sudden cardiac arrest
All of these are potential problems in people addicted to alcohol, but even among those who aren’t alcohol dependent, binge drinking (more than four or five drinks on a single occasion) can cause stroke or worse.
According the Centers for Disease control and Prevention (CDC) drinking more alcohol than the recommended limits above can cause many other harms in addition to the risks to the heart, such as:
- Neurological problems including dementia
- Psychiatric problems including depression and suicide
- Social problems including unemployment, family problems, lost productivity
- Cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, breast, and colon
- Liver diseases including hepatitis and cirrhosis
- Gastrointestinal problems such as pancreatitis and gastritis
- Sudden health crises including accidental injuries, violence, risky sexual encounters, miscarriages and stillbirths or birth defects, and alcohol poisoning (a medical emergency)
Strategies to Lower Heart Disease Risk
Those who are addicted to alcohol (alcoholics) need to stop drinking completely to lower their risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular conditions which otherwise would continue to increase. And those who can conquer alcohol addiction would be wise to follow the advice of the American Heart Association to work with their doctors to help address their cardiovascular disease risk factors, including:
- Lowering cholesterol
- Lowering blood pressure
- Controlling weight
- Getting sufficient physical activity
- Following a heart-healthy diet
Heart disease is the number one cause of death for both men and women and merits whatever changes in lifestyle are necessary to protect against it.
Overcome Alcohol Addiction to Avoid a Damaged Heart
The evidence is clear that alcohol addiction can cause devastating cardiovascular damage over time. The many harms of alcohol should be a focus to motivate behavior change in an alcoholic, but most dependent drinkers will probably need to enter a professional treatment program. Family and friends can help by identifying and contacting local community resources to assess the alternatives available to help the alcoholic stop drinking.