June 28, 2022
Alcohol and your heart
In Australia we’re seeing people become increasingly conscious of how alcohol might be affecting their health. More of us are cutting out drinking completely, and many others are taking action to reduce their drinking.1
Alcohol continues to be one of the top risk factors for poor health around the world. It’s linked to a number of long-term health conditions like cardiovascular disease, cancer, stroke and liver disease.2
Alcohol’s relationship with heart health is a topic on many Australians’ minds – and we’re here to give you all the facts.
Is alcohol bad for your heart?
No amount of alcohol is good for your heart.
This isn’t to say drinking alcohol will likely cause heart problems or cardiovascular disease – it just means your risk is a bit higher. The level of risk depends on how much you drink.3
For example, a recent study found:
- there was a small increase in the risk of heart disease when going from zero to seven drinks per week
- a higher increase in risk from seven to 14 drinks per week
- an especially high risk when drinking 21 or more drinks per week.
Past studies on alcohol and the heart have also had similar findings.
A 2010 study estimated that people who have regular binge drinking sessions have a 45% increased risk factor of developing ischemic (coronary) heart disease.4, 5
Another 2015 study found for those who already drink more than 3.6 standard drinks of alcohol per day, each additional daily drink results in a 10% extra risk of atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat).6
Can I drink if I have a heart condition?
The Heart Foundation recommends people who currently have a heart condition should, at the very least, limit their alcohol intake to the Australian alcohol guidelines. This also goes for people who are at risk of a heart condition.
The Australian guidelines recommend no more than 10 standard drinks a week and no more than 4 standard drinks on any one day.7
And for some people, it may be better to drink even less than what the guidelines recommend, or not drink at all.
This may be particularly important for certain conditions like atrial fibrillation.7 You can read more about this on the Heart Foundation website.
But this is only general advice. If you’re managing a heart condition, or are at risk of one, it’s best to have a chat with your GP or specialist and follow their advice.
Research funded by the alcohol industry
You may have heard in the media or on your socials that a small amount of alcohol is good for your heart.
But, a lot of the research arguing this is seriously flawed.8-10
Most of this research was actually funded by the alcohol industry – which raises questions about results that deliberately favour ‘positive’ findings.10-12
As the alcohol industry relies on more people drinking to make money, it’s an obvious issue for the industry to fund research that tells people that small amounts of their product is ‘good for you’.
The study designs of this research were also problematic:
- Researchers found that participants in their study who drank at moderate levels were healthier than the abstainers and had lower risk of heart disease.8
- However, a lot of the abstainers had quit drinking because of underlying issues with their health. And, the moderate drinkers had generally healthier lifestyles than the abstainers.3
- So, moderate drinkers with no pre-existing health issues who took better care of their health were being compared to non-drinkers with pre-existing health issues.
- This lead to the authors concluding it was the alcohol rather than other lifestyle factors that led to their improved health.3, 8, 9
This research has been widely discredited, which you can read more about here:
- Alcohol may not benefit the heart, researchers say – Harvard Gazette
- Moderate Drinking May Not Ward Off Heart Disease
- How big alcohol is trying to fool us into thinking drinking is safer than it really is
What can I do if I want to reduce my drinking?
If you are someone that does feel like cutting back a bit, there are a few ways you can go about doing this:
- Speak to your GP: Your doctor can use a screening tool like this one to work out safe and achievable goals to reduce your drinking. They can also provide referrals to counselling or other support services.
- ADIS: Another option is to contact the alcohol and other drug information service for your state or territory. These services provide 24/7 counselling, support and referral over the phone. Call 1800 250 015 to be diverted to the ADIS in your state or territory.
- Have a go on your own: There are lots of articles and resources on the internet that can help with this, see below:
- Australian Institute of Health Welfare. National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2019 Canberra: AIHW; 2020 [22.06.2022].
- World Health Organization. Global status report on alcohol and health 2018. Geneva: WHO; 2018.
- Biddinger KJ, Emdin CA, Haas ME, Wang M, Hindy G, Ellinor PT, et al. Association of Habitual Alcohol Intake With Risk of Cardiovascular Disease. JAMA Network Open [Internet]. 2022 [18.05.2022]; 5(3):[e223849-e pp.].
- Roerecke M, Rehm J. Irregular Heavy Drinking Occasions and Risk of Ischemic Heart Disease: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. American Journal of Epidemiology [Internet]. 2010 [22.06.2022]; 171(6):[633-44 pp.].
- Roerecke M, Rehm J. Irregular heavy drinking occasions and risk of ischemic heart disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Epidemiol [Internet]. 2010 Mar 15 [20.05.2022]; 171(6):[633-44 pp.].
- Fernández-Solà J. Cardiovascular risks and benefits of moderate and heavy alcohol consumption. Nature Reviews Cardiology [Internet]. 2015 [22.06.2022]; 12(10):[576-87 pp.].
- The Heart Foundation.Alcohol & Heart Health: Position Statement. 2021.
- Stockwell T, Zhao J, Panwar S, Roemer A, Naimi T, Chikritzhs T. Do “Moderate” Drinkers Have Reduced Mortality Risk? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Alcohol Consumption and All-Cause Mortality. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs [Internet]. 2016 [22.06.2022]; 77(2):[185-98 pp.].
- Stockwell T, Zhao J.Alcohol's contribution to cancer is underestimated for exactly the same reason that its contribution to cardioprotection is overestimated.Addiction [Internet]. 2017 [22.06.2022]; 112(2):[230-2 pp.].
- McCambridge J, Hartwell G. Has industry funding biased studies of the protective effects of alcohol on cardiovascular disease? A preliminary investigation of prospective cohort studies. Drug and Alcohol Review [Internet]. 2015 [22.06.2022]; 34(1):[58-66 pp.].
- Rabin R. Major Study of Drinking Will Be Shut Down: The New York Times; 2018 [22.06.2022]. Available from:
- Rabin R. It Was Supposed to Be an Unbiased Study of Drinking. They Wanted to Call It ‘Cheers.’: The New York Times; 2018 [22.06.2022].