Have you ever felt your heart rate increase during or after drinking alcohol? For some, this is an uncomfortable short-term side effect. For others, it can become a chronic symptom of unhealthy alcohol use, and may be a sign of more serious health conditions. Below we will review how alcohol affects both heart rate and the cardiovascular system in general, and the associated health risks that come with it. While this topic can be overwhelming at first, understanding the connection between alcohol and your heart can ultimately help you feel more empowered to make healthier choices.
What Does Heart Rate Really Mean?
Your heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute. An adult’s average heart rate is between 60-100 beats per minute. Generally, a lower heart rate is a sign of good health because it shows your body is effectively circulating blood with minimal effort. That’s why people who do vigorous cardiovascular exercises, such as professional athletes, tend to have a lower resting heart rate than the general population.
Does Alcohol Increase Heart Rate?
The short answer is yes, alcohol can increase your heart rate both in the short and long term. Many people report feeling like their heart is beating faster during or after consuming alcohol. Let’s take a closer look at why that happens and the unique effects that alcohol has on the cardiovascular system.
How Does Alcohol Affect the Cardiovascular System?
When alcohol enters the body it begins circulating throughout key organ systems. It starts by entering the stomach and small intestine, and then eventually makes its way to the heart. While studies have consistently shown that alcohol consumption leads to increased heart rate, the exact mechanisms that cause this aren’t entirely understood. However, there are three primary reasons that are thought to contribute to an increased heart rate after drinking. Let’s discuss.
Electrical Signal Disruption
The way that the body interprets the electrical signals that cause the heart to beat is an important factor that can change your heart rate. Normal electrical signals keep your heart beating at a regular pace, but when alcohol enters the system, it can disrupt those signals. This results in an elevated heart rate.
Blood Vessel Dilation
Drinking alcohol also causes your blood vessels to expand and dilate. In response, the heart starts to pump more blood to keep the body in homeostasis. The heart has to beat faster and faster to keep enough blood circulating. This is another way heart rate increases after consuming alcohol, and is also the reason why you might feel warm or flushed after drinking.
There’s a strong connection between alcohol and anxiety. While alcohol may provide anxiety relief in the short-term, it can actually cause anxiety levels to spike once the initial effects of alcohol wear off. This phenomenon is sometimes called “hangxiety,” and is a result of the way alcohol affects your brain chemistry and central nervous system. A faster heart rate is a common symptom of hangxiety, and can last for a few hours or even days after drinking.
What Factors Affect Heart Rate While Drinking?
Several factors can contribute to an elevated heart rate while drinking. These include:
- Alcohol levels: The greater amount of alcohol you consume, the more likely you are to experience an increased heart rate both while drinking and after drinking.
- Stimulants: When alcohol is paired with caffeine (like in an espresso martini or a Four Loko) or other stimulant, heart rates can accelerate even more drastically.
- Air temperature: Being in extremely hot or cold temperatures can increase your heart rate.
- Smoking cigarettes: Smoking cigarettes can affect heart rate, and even more so when drinking alcohol.
- Emotions: If you start drinking while already stressed or anxious, you’re even more likely to experience an elevated heart rate.
- Medications: Mixing alcohol and certain medication can have dangerous or even life-threatening effects to the heart. It’s important to speak with your physician about any potential medication interactions with alcohol.
If you’re consistently experiencing a rapid heart rate after drinking, that may be a sign that you’ve developed an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. Speaking with a healthcare provider at Monument can help you understand your symptoms and treatment options if necessary. Tools like alcohol therapy, peer support, and medication to stop drinking can help you change your drinking habits on your own terms.
Dangers of Increased Heart Rate From Alcohol
As discussed, increased heart rate is one of many possible long term effects of alcohol on the body. Increased heart rate can also increase your risk of other conditions. For example, atrial fibrillation is the most significant danger of increased heart rate from alcohol consumption. However, other conditions such as cardiomyopathy, heart attack, different types of stroke, increased blood pressure, and weakened heart muscles can also occur. Let’s dive a bit deeper into each of these conditions.
Prolonged alcohol consumption on a daily basis can sometimes lead to atrial fibrillation, where the heart beats abnormally fast and out of rhythm, even under resting conditions. Researchers have found a strong correlation between drinking—even one to three drinks a day—and the development of atrial fibrillation. Any alcohol consumption beyond three glasses a day raises the risk even more, with studies suggesting an 8% increase in risk for every additional drink you consume.
Extended unhealthy alcohol use can weaken and distort the heart muscle, causing a condition called cardiomyopathy. This condition is characterized by when the heart loses its ability to pump blood to the rest of the body properly. This often results in a disruption of regular heart rhythm, known as arrhythmias. Cardiomyopathy can lead to heart failure, though less severe symptoms include shortness of breath, swelling of the legs, and bloating.
Support Group: Addressing anxiety while managing your drinking
High Blood Pressure
Regular alcohol consumption is commonly associated with an elevation in blood pressure. High blood pressure, otherwise known as hypertension, can increase the risk of both heart attack and stroke.
The most vital molecule to keep the heart pumping is oxygen. Without an adequate supply of oxygen, a heart attack can occur. Ordinarily, plaque buildup resulting from high cholesterol causes the coronary arteries to narrow, and can significantly increase risk of heart attack. What many people don’t know is that alcohol also increases the fat levels in the blood. Should a piece of this plaque (fat) break off, a clot can form around the heart and result in a heart attack.
Alcohol consumption increases the risk of both ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke. Both stroke types result from disrupted blood flow to brain tissue. Much like a heart attack, an ischemic stroke results from a blood clot. The difference is that in this instance, the clot forms in a blood vessel in the brain. A hemorrhagic stroke is a direct result of increased blood pressure.
How to Slow a Fast Heart Rate From Drinking
1. Stop Drinking Alcohol
The most effective method to lower a fast heart rate from drinking is to stop drinking alcohol. Stopping drinking can help prevent your heart rate from increasing even further. You may not see an immediate change as it can take up to 24 hours for the heart to return to normal, but you should see a noticeable improvement as time goes on.
Additionally, be sure to stay hydrated. Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it dehydrates your body. You can effectively lower your heart rate by being conscious of adequately hydrating your body while drinking or after drinking alcohol.
3. Try Stress-Relieving Activities
Another way to help slow down your heart rate is to practice stress-relieving activities. Take some deep breaths or go for a walk outside. You can also try meditation, which can cause your heart to slow dramatically, even going beyond the point of a resting heart rate to the pace typically only experienced while sleeping.
If you have experienced elevated heart rates while drinking and have concerns about the health of your heart and cardiovascular system, it is best to seek the guidance of a health professional. Cutting back on alcohol is one of the best things you can do to improve your heart health and reduce associated risks. Monument offers evidence-based tools like alcohol therapy, medication to stop drinking, and moderated support groups.
With the right help and consistent support, you can find long-term health and happiness. You are not alone.
- Mindworks Team Mindworks “Can Meditation Help Lower My Heart Rate or Blood Pressure?:https://mindworks.org/blog/can-meditation-help-lower-my-heart-rate-or-blood-pressure/. Accessed Aug 5, 2022.
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- Johns Hopkins Medicine, “Cardiomyopathy.” https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/cardiomyopathy.
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