Alcohol and Cardiovascular Disease

Alcohol consumption increases an individual’s risk of cardiovascular disease.


What is cardiovascular disease?

Cardiovascular disease includes a range of heart and blood vessel diseases. Cardiovascular disease is responsible for 32% of all deaths. One in five Australians is affected by cardiovascular disease, which includes a range of heart and blood vessel diseases. [1] There is a strong relationship between cardiovascular disease and alcohol consumption.


How does alcohol cause cardiovascular disease?

Alcohol can affect the cardiovascular system in multiple ways. There is evidence that it can only take drinking one or two drinks to affect heart rate, blood pressure, the effectiveness of the heart muscles, the amount of blood pumped, and blood flow to regions of the body. [2]

Consumption of large amounts of alcohol, both regularly and irregularly can affect the structure of the heart and how it functions. [2] Alcohol raises blood pressure, blood triglycerides and body weight which can lead to cardiovascular disease. [3] Having high blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. [3]


What cardiovascular diseases can alcohol cause?

Alcohol consumption can cause these cardiovascular conditions:

Dilated cardiomyopathy

Cardiomyopathy refers to heart muscle disease. Dilated cardiomyopathy is characterised by an enlarged heart with weakened contractions. There is evidence that shows alcohol is toxic for the muscle cells of the heart. [4]

Hypertension or high blood pressure

Blood pressure is the measurement of the force blood places on blood vessel walls as it travels throughout the body. High blood pressure can cause stroke as it places extra strain on the blood vessels. This can cause the blood vessels to weaken or breakdown, which can lead to stroke. [5]

Blood pressure is affected by the amount of alcohol consumed. For example, research has shown that high blood pressure is more common among people who drink more than 3 standard drinks per day. Studies have found if alcohol consumption is decreased, there was a fall in blood pressure. [5]

High blood cholesterol

When cholesterol builds up this can cause plaque to line the blood vessels. High blood pressure can cause this plaque, and blood clots, to break off the artery walls and block blood vessels. [5]


Arrhythmias are abnormal heart rhythms that can occur because of changes to the heart’s electrical system. The problems can be because of blocked signals, abnormal pathways, irritable heart cells and medicines and stimulants. Some of the common arrhythmias including the heart beating too slow (bradycardia), or too fast (tachycardia). [6]

Regular drinking above recommended levels increases the risk of arrhythmia. [7]

Congestive heart failure or chronic heart failure

Heart failure is when heart muscle has become too weak to pump blood around the body as well as it used to. This means the blood cannot be pumped around the body as efficiently as it should. Once heart muscle is damaged, it cannot heal itself. [8]


Stroke is when an artery in the brain becomes blocked, or bleeds. This results in the blood supply being disrupted in the brain. [2,9] Alcohol consumption increases the risk of both ischaemic (when an artery supplying blood to the brain becomes blocked) and haemorrhagic (when an artery supplying blood to the brain bleeds) strokes. [9] The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare advise that stroke is preventable and reducing modifiable risky behaviours, such as alcohol consumption, could prevent many strokes. [9]

Click here for more information on stroke.


I thought alcohol could improve my cardiovascular health?

The World Health Organisation and other key groups now recommend that people should not commence or maintain drinking to achieve health benefits and that there is no merit in promoting alcohol consumption as a preventative strategy for cardiovascular disease.

The National Heart Foundation has found a lack of consistent evidence to confirm that antioxidants in red wine can either prevent cardiovascular disease or be beneficial after a heart attack. They also hold the position that alcohol consumption should not be promoted for the prevention or treatment of heart disease.

The National Heart Foundation also advises that health professionals should not recommend that people use red wine or any other alcoholic drink for the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease. [10] This means there’s enough evidence to prove that alcohol causes cardiovascular disease.

In order to remain at low risk of alcohol-caused cardiovascular disease, health experts recommend having no more than two standard drinks on any day.

[1] National Heart Foundation of Australia. (2010). Secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease. Available at:

[2] National Health and Medical Research Council. (2001). Australian alcohol guidelines: health risks and benefits. Available at:

[3] The Royal Australian College of General National Heart Foundation of Australia and The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. Alcohol misuse: reducing the risks. Implementing lifestyle change – facilitator guide.

[4] Heather, N., Peters, T.J., & Stockwell, T. (Editors). (2001). International Handbook of Alcohol Dependence and Problems. Wiley: West Sussex

[5] Stroke Foundation. High blood pressure and stroke. Available at:

[6] National Heart Foundation. Arrithymias. Available at:

[7] Larsson, S., Drca, N. & Wolk, A. (2014). Alcohol consumption and risk of atrial fibrillation: a prospective study and dose-response meta-anallysis. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 64 (3):281-9

[8] Heart Foundation. Heart Failure. Available at:

[9] AIHW. (2013). Stroke and its management in Australia: an update. Cardiovascular disease series 37. Cat. no. CVD 61. AIHW: Canberra

[10] National Heart Foundation. (2010). Summary of evidence – antioxidants in food, drinks and supplements for cardiovascular health. Available at: