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The Connection Between Alcohol and Heart Disease

The Connection Between Alcohol and Heart Disease

8 minute read

You’ve likely heard about the benefits of moderate drinking on overall health, from the antioxidant-rich resveratrol in red wine to claims that alcohol can actually be good for your heart.

The thing is, any positive benefits of drinking alcohol can be achieved in other ways. We’re talking about a healthy diet, exercise, and the management of your stress. 

All of that and limiting your alcohol intake is better for your heart than the power of one glass of wine. Heavy drinking in general increases your risk of developing a number of heart conditions. 

Whether you’re health-conscious or cutting back to address concerning symptoms, Surely has a variety of alcohol-removed wines for you to sip that satisfy any wine lover’s craving.

Is alcohol bad for your heart?

Alcohol is bad for your heart in large amounts. Excessive drinking, or binge drinking, can lead to high blood pressure, heart diseases like cardiomyopathy, heart failure, and strokes.

There is some evidence out there that shows that low amounts of alcohol consumption can lead to some positive heart outcomes, but it is stressed that the research is not definite. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define moderate drinking as 1 drink per day for women and 2 alcoholic beverages or less per day for men. 

These are standard-sized drinks, meaning 12 ounces of regular beer or 4-5 ounces of wine or champagne. (The alcohol content of champagne is similar to that of most lighter white wines, but flute pours are typically just shy of a typical wine pour.)

Both the CDC and American Heart Association agree on one key thing about public health: Drinking less is always going to be better than drinking more. If you don’t already drink, you shouldn’t start just because you heard red wine might be good for your health.

For those with heart conditions already, there is no safe drinking level. 

This includes those who may be predisposed to heart problems down the line, including a history of heart attacks in the family and anyone with a history of alcohol abuse.

Alcohol can even affect your cholesterol, and not in a good way.

How does alcohol affect cholesterol?

Alcohol can affect cholesterol by increasing the number of triglycerides in your blood. High triglycerides are linked to LDL cholesterol, which in turn is connected to conditions like fatty liver disease and a buildup in your arteries.

Clogged arteries can lead to an increased risk for various heart problems, including coronary artery disease.

Alcohol on its own doesn’t contain any cholesterol. There have been studies that show a potential link and protective effect between red wine and increases in high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or the “good” cholesterol. 

HDL is good for clearing out the arteries flowing to and from your heart and preventing blood clots.

That doesn’t mean you should pick up drinking if you’re looking to get your cholesterol in check, especially if you’re looking at drinks outside of red wine. It’s just not worth the hangover

Sugars and carbohydrates in certain beers or mixed alcoholic drinks can cause temporary jumps in your cholesterol and lead to weight gain. What you’re sipping could be empty calories. 

More significantly, drinking too much alcohol overall can become a risk factor for low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or the “bad” kind of cholesterol.

What are the health risks of drinking too much alcohol?

The health risks of drinking too much alcohol include: 

Moderate alcohol consumption is acceptable for many adults, but drinking too much alcohol can lead to various health conditions.

Specific to your heart health, excessive drinking can weaken your heart muscle enough that it causes cardiomyopathy. That means your heart becomes less efficient, working harder to pump blood throughout the body. This can eventually lead to heart failure.

Binge drinking puts you at risk for a variety of health conditions

Benefits of Drinking Less Alcohol

Any positive benefit moderate drinkers get from the occasional alcoholic beverage can be achieved in other ways. 

Those same components in red wine that boost your HDL cholesterol are also found in the skins of plain old red grapes. Lower cholesterol overall can be achieved with regular physical activity and weight management. 

It’s much easier to watch the calories when you’re not drinking alcohol, by the way. 

The health benefits of drinking less alcohol are far more significant, especially when it comes to your heart. 

Drinking less alcohol affects the heart in a few different ways:

  • Improved heart rate: Drinking too much can cause arrhythmias or an irregular heart rhythm. One potential complication is atrial fibrillation, a rapid heart rate that can cause heart disease or stroke. This improves by abstaining from alcohol.
  • Lowered blood pressure: High blood pressure, or hypertension, is particularly dangerous to your heart. It can lead to heart disease and stroke if you don’t take the proper steps to address it. That includes drinking less, especially if your drinking is heavy.
  • Lower risk of stroke: Irregular heart rate from too much drinking is a known predictor of blood clots and possible stroke. Multiple studies have shown that heavy drinking can increase your stroke risk, particularly in adults over 50.

Most significant heart risks are associated with heavy drinking. Again, low to moderate alcohol use is typically fine for healthy adults, but not a replacement for healthier habits. 

There are also some groups of people who just shouldn’t drink at all. That includes pregnant women or women who are breastfeeding, people on certain medications, and anyone with a history of alcohol addiction. 

Talk to your doctor if you’re unsure whether that occasional cocktail is harmful to your health, especially if you have a history of heart problems.

Signs of Alcohol-Related Heart Disease

Coronary heart disease due to too much alcohol, or alcoholic cardiomyopathy, is a condition caused by years of heavy drinking. The condition causes your heart to work less efficiently, damaging the muscle and straining your blood vessels.

What are the symptoms of heart disease? The symptoms of heart disease include chest pain or chest discomfort, heart palpitations, and a rapid or irregular pulse or heart rate.

In addition to the general symptoms of heart disease, the symptoms of alcoholic cardiomyopathy specifically include:

  • Shortness of breath, even when resting
  • Muscle weakness or loss of muscle mass
  • Fatigue or dizziness
  • Swelling in the legs, ankles, and feet
  • Muscle cramps and muscle stiffness
  • Twitches, spasms
  • Dark urine
  • Difficulty concentrating

Mild cases may not show any symptoms at all. Depending on your case, cardiomyopathy caused by alcohol can be improved if you abstain from alcohol. In fact, the first step in treatment of the condition is to stop drinking completely.

If you’re at risk for a heart condition and want more information about alcohol and your own risk factors, talk to your doctor or a cardiologist. 

While it’s important to understand the symptoms and first signs of heart disease, you don’t want to get to the point of showing symptoms. That often means your condition has already progressed to heart disease.

What to Drink Instead

No matter your weight, if you’re working on your cardiovascular health, there just isn’t a safe amount of alcohol that will improve your heart as much as just not drinking will.

There is no magic number when it comes to ounces of wine to improve your heart and vascular health. Even a small amount of alcohol can be detrimental if you’re already at risk. 

That doesn’t mean all hope is lost. The good news is, when you stop drinking, you have a good chance of dramatically improving health problems developed as a result of drinking to excess.

You can also still have a delicious — and healthier — time with the non-alcoholic options out there, whether you’re cutting back temporarily or seeking long-term alcohol alternatives.

If the benefits of wine are what you’re after, you can have those, too, even if you’re cutting back. Surely has a variety of alcohol-removed wines for you to sip that taste more like the real thing. 

Try our non-alcoholic rosé or sauvignon blanc for the classics. If you want some fizz, try our sparkling white, canned brut wine, or sparkling rosé. You can keep your heart healthy and enjoy what you’re drinking with Surely.


  1. Positive effects of alcohol drinking?
  2. Alcohol use disorders and the heart
  3. Impact of Red Wine Consumption on Cardiovascular Health
  4. Alcohol and the heart
  5. Heart rate variability in alcohol use: A review
  6. The effect of a reduction in alcohol consumption on blood pressure: a systematic review and meta-analysis
  7. Alcohol consumption and risk of stroke: a meta-analysis
  8. Alcoholic cardiomyopathy

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