Why Alcohol Matters

Drinking too much alcohol can do the following:

  • raise your blood pressure
  • weaken your heart, leading to heart failure
  • contribute to high levels of fats called triglycerides in your blood - which are linked to heart disease
  • cause heart rhythm problems called arrhythmias
  • contribute to weight gain

Drinking moderate amounts of alcohol may be somewhat beneficial to your heart. In fact, compared with those who don't drink any alcohol, those who drink moderate amounts have a lower risk of coronary heart disease.

If you do drink, you should take care not to drink too much. This means no more than two drinks per day for men, and no more than one drink per day for women. A drink equals 1 ounce of hard liquor, 5 ounces of wine, or 12 ounces of beer.

But if you don't drink alcohol now, this doesn't mean you should start. Because alcohol use has other risks, the American Heart Association cautions against starting.

What Health Risks Are Associated With Alcohol?

Alcohol may raise your blood pressure, interfere with some medicines, and contribute to other health problems, such as:

  • cancer
  • death and injury from accidents
  • heart and brain damage
  • liver and pancreas disease
  • depression

In addition, a woman who drinks alcohol during pregnancy puts her baby at risk for fetal alcohol syndrome, called FAS. A baby with FAS can suffer from mental retardation, growth problems, problems with the central nervous system, head and face deformities, and behavioral problems. There is no clear threshold for the amount of alcohol a woman must drink to cause FAS. So experts recommend that pregnant women drink no alcohol at all.

Alcoholic beverages are also in calories and contain few nutrients. If you are overweight, drinking can make it more difficult to lose weight. This is because a single drink may contain 70 to 180 calories. And, as you know, you need to lose excess weight to protect the health of your heart.

If you need help cutting back on your alcohol intake, ask your healthcare team for support.