Drinking Alcohol and Your Heart Rate
Alcohol is a depressant as opposed to a stimulant, which means it slows down your brain’s ability to control your body. As a result, you might notice you speak and move more slowly, but the effects of alcohol go deeper.
Alcohol consumption slows down your breathing and dilates your blood vessels, causing your heart to pump harder and faster to circulate the same amount of blood throughout your body.
While changes in your heart rhythm after drinking aren’t always a cause for concern, there are some things you need to know.
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Why Does Alcohol Cause an Elevated Heart Rate?
Depressants like alcohol are often imagined as substances that relax the body, which is true to a degree. So, how does alcohol actually speed your heart rate up?
The way in which alcohol impacts your cardiovascular system will depend on your health and how much you drink. However, a small study revealed that while one drink reduced how much blood the heart had to move, two drinks had the opposite effect.
After one drink, blood vessels dilate, which presumably means the heart doesn’t need to pump as hard to move the same amount of blood through the body. However, with another drink, breathing slows down further, impacting the amount of oxygen in the blood.
What’s more, that second drink increases activity in the sympathetic nervous system and also increases the amount of blood moving through the heart.
In simple terms, the more you drink, the harder your heart must work to overcome the amount of alcohol you’re consuming. This is why binge drinking can lead to not only an increased heart rate but an irregular heartbeat as your cardiovascular system works harder and harder to keep pace.
How To Slow Your Heart Rate After Alcohol Use
An abnormal heart rhythm isn’t always a sign of something serious, but it can be very uncomfortable.
If you’ve been drinking and you feel your heart start to race or beat irregularly, you can try some relaxation techniques to try and bring it back to normal.
The first thing you should do is stop drinking so that you don’t continue to stress your body further.
Next, drink some water and electrolytes to rehydrate as alcohol tends to dehydrate the body, which makes it harder for your liver to process the alcohol you’ve already consumed.
Once you have done these two things, try the following:
- Sit down and try to relax. Moving around will only prompt your heart to beat faster as it tries to make your body send more oxygen to your muscles.
- Practice deep breathing to flood your body with oxygen. This will help slow your heart rate, as it makes each pump more efficient at moving oxygenated blood throughout your body.
- The NIH suggests trying vagal maneuvers. These include coughing or bearing down as if having a bowel movement. Be careful not to strain yourself and make sure you continue breathing.
- Apply an ice pack to your face with a cloth wrapped around it to protect your skin.
If you drink, you should also make an effort every day to protect and support your heart health, like eating right and getting enough exercise.
The CDC suggests that limiting yourself to two drinks a day and avoiding drinking on multiple consecutive days in a row is also helpful to give your body a break.
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Can Heavy Drinking Cause Heart Disease?
Alcohol consumption is associated with cardiovascular disease and various heart conditions, including:
- High blood pressure: Also known as hypertension, the CDC says high blood pressure forces your heart to work harder in order to move blood throughout the body.
- Stroke: Excessive drinking can cause an ischemic stroke, which is when part of the brain cannot get sufficient oxygen.
- Cardiomyopathy: A condition where the heart muscle has become damaged over time to the point where it can no longer work efficiently.
- Arrhythmias: A term used to describe abnormal heart rhythms. According to the CDC, atrial fibrillation is the most common arrhythmia.
- Heart failure: A progressive condition where the heart cannot pump enough blood to fill the body with oxygen, which can cause weakness, collapse, and organ failure.
Certain risk factors, like being overweight or not eating a healthy diet, can make you more likely to suffer from these conditions.
If you drink often, it’s important to get regular check-ups with your doctor to mitigate health risks.
Warning Signs of Serious Heart Problems
If you’ve been drinking, it’s not necessarily abnormal for your heart to beat faster. However, if you come to a point where you realize your alcohol intake has led to an uncomfortable change in your heart rhythm or how you feel overall, you might be dealing with a more serious issue.
Some of the warning signs of serious heart problems include:
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Pain or discomfort in your jaw, neck, shoulder, back, or arm
- Numbness or weakness in your face, arm, or leg
If you ever feel “off” after you have been drinking — or during periods when you are sober between binge-drinking episodes — you should get help immediately.
Alcohol consumption puts people at a much higher risk of a heart attack, stroke, or other medical emergency, so play it safe and call your doctor if you experience any of the above side effects.
Worried About Drinking and Your Heart Health? Get Help Today
Having a drink every once in a while is not a big deal, but if you find that your drinking is starting to get out of control, it’s time to reassess your circumstances.
All types of alcohol are addicting, and it’s not always possible to quit on your own. If you need help cutting back on your drinking, Zinnia Health can help.
At our state-of-the-art treatment centers, we provide:
- Personalized, confidential, one-on-one support
- Inpatient and outpatient treatment options
- Proven methods that go beyond 12-step programs
- Ongoing aftercare to support you in your journey
If you’re ready to take the next step toward addiction recovery, Zinnia Health can help. Our recovery specialists are standing by to answer your questions and help you get on the path to a life free from addiction. Call our free drug abuse hotline any time, day or night, at (855) 430-9439 to get the information you need.