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How does excessive drinking contribute to heart disease?

Medically reviewed by Leigh Ann Anderson, PharmD. Last updated on Dec 16, 2021.

Official answer


Drinking too much alcohol can:

  • weaken the heart muscles, blood vessels and lower the blood pumping action of the heart. This can cause cardiomyopathy (weakened heart muscles) and heart failure
  • increase your triglycerides
  • contribute to high blood pressure and coronary artery disease
  • increase your risk of an abnormal heart rhythm or rate (arrhythmia). Some arrhythmias can lead to blood clots, strokes, and heart failure
  • promote weight gain, obesity and diabetes.

Low to moderate alcohol use (no more than 2 drinks a day for men, 1 drink a day for women) might lower the risk of coronary artery disease. However, no studies have proven a direct link between drinking alcohol and better heart health. If you do not drink alcohol, do not start to try to lower your risk of heart disease.

If you choose to drink alcohol, the key is to drink in moderation. Moderate alcohol use is defined as 1 to 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women.

In general this means:

  • 5 ounces (148 mL) of wine
  • 12 ounces (355 mL) of regular beer
  • 1.5 ounces (44 mL) of 80-proof liquor (such as vodka, gin or bourbon)

Not everyone should drink, even if they choose to. Drinking is dangerous for pregnant women and those trying to get pregnant, is illegal if you are under age 21 or driving a vehicle under the influence, for people with certain medical conditions, or if you take certain medicines due to possible drug interactions. Ask your doctor if it is safe for you to drink in moderation.

Heart disease is not the only medical risk with excessive alcohol use. Drinking can increase the risk of breast cancer, liver disease, depression, suicide, accidents, and alcoholism. In extreme cases, death from alcohol poisoning can occur.

Binge drinking, considered as having 5 or more drinks in 2 hours for men, or 4 or more drinks in 2 hours for women, may put you at higher risk for atrial fibrillation, a dangerous abnormal heart rhythm.

There are other ways to protect your heart in addition to limiting alcohol use. If you smoke or use tobacco, talk to your doctor about smoking cessation programs so you can quit, eat a healthy, low-fat diet, exercise regularly (at least 30 minutes a day for most days of the week), and keep your weight in the normal range.


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