How does alcohol affect my heart?

Excessive alcohol use can raise blood pressure and cause heart failure. It can also contribute to obesity and cholesterol problems -- both of which play a role in heart disease. However, moderate alcohol consumption seems to have a protective effect on your heart. (Among other benefits, it appears to raise high-density lipoprotein [HDL] cholesterol or good cholesterol.) The American Heart Association recommends that people who drink should limit their alcohol to 1 drink a day for women and 1 or 2 drinks for men.

A daily glass or two of red wine or other alcoholic beverage may help lower your risk for cardiovascular disease by 25 to 40 percent. That's because the ethanol in all forms of alcohol helps increase HDL (good) cholesterol and prevent blood clots. The key is moderation: no more than one drink per day for the ladies; two for the gents.

Intermountain Registered Dietitians
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

A little bit of alcohol won’t hurt—and it may even help—your heart. But your alcohol intake should be moderate. For women, “moderate” means one drink a day. For men, the limit is one or two drinks a day. Stick with these targets to avoid the extra calories—and the extra risks that alcohol use can bring.

When folks drink too much alcohol, such as five drinks in a single setting, it directly affects the heart muscle itself. It impairs the heart’s ability to contract and squeeze, which is effectively heart failure, thanks to the direct toxic effects of alcohol. Some people can withstand this, but others cannot. It’s very unpredictable—all of a sudden for no reason, people can get alcohol-induced cardiomyopathy, or what’s called the holiday heart, or even heart failure. Excessive alcohol consumption may also cause arrhythmia (an irregular heartbeat) or atrial fibrillation.

Continue Learning about Alcohol & Health

Excessive Alcohol Use Responsible for 88,000 US Deaths—Here's How to Cut Back
Excessive Alcohol Use Responsible for 88,000 US Deaths—Here's How to Cut Back
Even people who don't drink daily can get in trouble with alcohol. Overall, about one in six Americans binge drink about four times a month, defined a...
Read More
How much alcohol should I drink daily to help my heart?
Anthony L. Komaroff, MDAnthony L. Komaroff, MD
Dozens of studies have suggested that moderate consumption of alcohol reduces the risk for heart...
More Answers
Does alcohol affect women differently?
Joan Salge Blake, MS, RDJoan Salge Blake, MS, RD
Men and women are not created equal when it comes to handling alcohol. Physiologically, there is a d...
More Answers
How Does Alcohol Affect Sleep?
How Does Alcohol Affect Sleep?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.