Any time you’re drinking too much — whether overall or in one sitting — it can have a big impact on your immediate and long-term health.
When you think about a healthy heart, what comes to mind? We all know the importance of regular exercise and avoiding too many saturated fats when it comes to keeping our cardiovascular system operating at its best. But living a heart-healthy lifestyle goes well beyond just diet and exercise. Drinking and drug use, especially when it crosses the line into addiction, can have a massive impact on heart health.
Since cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for adults in this country, it’s important to reflect on all the ways that behaviors can impact our cardiovascular health — including the choice to drink or use drugs.
Alcohol can affect blood pressure: for better or worse.
Everyone loves to hear how a glass of red wine — or dark chocolate for that matter — is good for heart health. While it’s true that some research has shown a connection between moderate consumption of red wine and health health, the American Heart Association emphasizes that correlation doesn’t equal causation. The benefit for heart health likely has more to do with people’s actions, like living a low-stress or active lifestyle, than their consumption of wine.
What’s crystal clear, however, is that drinking heavily can raise your blood pressure. Having high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, increases your risk for heart attack and stroke. If you have high blood pressure and consume more than one standard drink a day, your doctor will likely talk to you about reducing your alcohol consumption as part of an overall heart-healthy lifestyle.
Boosting your blood pressure isn’t the only way that alcohol use affects your heart health. Drinking heavily is one of the leading causes of cardiomyopathy, a disorder where the heart isn’t able to pump blood efficiently. People who develop cardiomyopathy due to alcohol use often experience heart failure, and many need a heart transplant in order to survive.
Alcohol may make heart disease more common among young people
In most cases, cardiovascular disease becomes more common as people age, and is relatively rare in young people. However, a new study finds that alcohol and recreational drug use can increase risk of premature cardiovascular disease. Researchers found that people who drink alcohol, use tobacco or use recreational drugs including cocaine, amphetamines and cannabis all had increased risk for heart disease.
“All subgroups of recreational substances were independently associated with a higher likelihood of premature and extremely premature,” cardiovascular disease, the study authors wrote.
The more substances you use, the higher risk you are at. The study found that people who use four or more substances regularly had a nearly 9-times increased risk for heart disease.
Alcohol as part of a heart-healthy lifestyle
Even if you’re concentrating on your heart health, it’s ok to have an occasional glass of wine. You can even substitute in a beer or cocktail, but it’s important to only drink in moderation. That means having no more than one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men. Remember, that means standard drinks — not a generous pour.
If you have trouble sticking to that limit, it might be time to reevaluate your relationship with alcohol. Unhealthy patterns like binge drinking can exist alongside or without substance use disorder. Any time you’re drinking too much — whether overall or in one sitting — it can have a big impact on your immediate and long-term health. You might need professional guidance to change your interactions with alcohol and switch to a healthier drinking pattern.
Taking care of your mental health, including addressing any underlying traumas or illnesses, can reduce stress. Keeping your stress to a minimum is important for controlling your blood pressure and cardiovascular health.
Heart health is important, but it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Taking care of your heart means taking care of your physical, mental and emotional health. Think about the steps you can take to be a healthier version of yourself.