Alcohol Is a Leading Factor in Cardiovascular Disease
In January 2022, the World Heart Federation (WHF) formally challenged the antiquated notion that moderate alcohol consumption can be good for one’s health. Rather than being beneficial to cardiovascular health, the WHF argued that alcohol consumption is a leading cause of cardiovascular disease.
A Look at the Data
Several studies have produced compelling evidence linking alcohol consumption to several cardiovascular diseases, including coronary disease, stroke, heart failure, hypertensive heart disease, cardiomyopathy, atrial fibrillation, and aneurysm. A study from 2022 found a “consistently risk-increasing association between all amounts of alcohol consumption and both hypertension and coronary artery disease, with modest increases in risk with light alcohol intake and exponentially greater risk increases at higher levels of consumption.” Another study found a relationship between alcohol consumption and risk for stroke, a connection that became more clear the more alcohol one drank.
Previous claims that alcohol may be beneficial to one’s heart health have been largely discredited due to being mainly observational in nature and for the critical error of such studies including former alcohol addicts who are now abstinent but who still suffer ill health effects in the group of “non-drinkers” and by including mainly young, healthy people in the group of “drinkers.”
Some scientists posit that health experts made a huge error in suggesting alcohol consumption can benefit you. “The portrayal of alcohol as necessary for a vibrant social life has diverted attention from the harms of alcohol use, as have the frequent and widely publicized claims that moderate drinking, such as a glass of red wine a day, can offer protection against cardiovascular disease,” says Monika Arora, member of the WHF Advocacy Committee and co-author of the brief. “These claims are at best misinformed and at worst an attempt by the alcohol industry to mislead the public about the danger of their product.” Much like the tobacco company scandals of the late 20th century, many public health officials are now concerned that the connections drawn between alcohol consumption and positive health outcomes were never legitimate to begin with and were promoted by alcohol manufacturers to assuage consumers’ concerns surrounding alcohol’s health effects.
The Broader Health Harms of Alcohol Consumption
In 2019, more than 2.4 million people died of alcohol-related causes globally, with over 100,000 losing their lives to alcohol in the U.S. alone. Across the world, alcohol causes about 4.3% of annual deaths and 12.6% of deaths among men aged 15 to 49. In addition to harming one’s heart health and leading to potentially fatal cardiovascular disease, alcohol consumption is also a factor in cancer, digestive diseases, intentional and unintentional injuries, and several infectious diseases.
Another factor to consider in alcohol’s overall effect on U.S. society is the economic and social costs of tens of millions of Americans using the substance. The rate of alcohol-related ER visits increased 47% between 2006 and 2014. With hundreds of thousands of Americans seeking emergency care in ERs for alcohol-related health crises, the cost to health systems, out-of-pocket expenditure, and productivity losses regarding alcohol cannot be understated. Sociologically, alcohol consumption has been linked to an increased risk of violence, homelessness, and criminal activity.
How Alcohol Affects All Aspects of One’s Health
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a 2022 report listing several short and long-term health-related harms connected to alcohol. Some of the short-term effects of drinking include:
- Risky sexual behaviors, including unprotected sex
- Alcohol poisoning, a life-threatening health event requiring emergency medical attention
- Injuries, such as car accidents, falls, burns, drownings, and accidents with heavy equipment
- Violence, including assault and battery, sexual assault, suicide, homicide, and intimate partner violence
- Weakened immune system, with users being more likely for up to 24 hours after drinking to contract infectious diseases
Some of the long-term health effects of drinking include:
- Mental health problems, including depression and anxiety
- Social problems, including challenges in one’s family, job, school, or friend group
- High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, digestive problems, and potentially fatal liver disease
- Cancers, including cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon, voice box, and rectum
- Learning and memory problems, including increased risk for dementia, cognitive difficulty, and memory loss
Critically, the most concerning long-term risk factor of alcohol consumption is that one will become addicted to alcohol.
What to Do if a Loved One Becomes Addicted
If someone you know uses alcohol and cannot stop using it alone, they must seek help at a drug and alcohol addiction treatment center as soon as possible. Alcohol addiction is evidenced by compulsive, ongoing, and regular consumption of alcohol despite clear evidence that such behavior is harmful and deleterious.
If someone you know matches this description, please assist them in finding help at a qualified residential alcohol treatment center as soon as possible. Please don’t wait until it is too late and they suffer an adverse health event due to drinking.
- WHF. “The Impact of Alcohol Consumption on Cardiovascular Health: Myths and Measures.” World Health Federation, 2022. world-heart-federation.org
- JAMA. “Association of Habitual Alcohol Intake With Risk of Cardiovascular Disease.” Journal of the American Medical Association, 2022. jamanetwork.com
- NIH. “Alcohol’s Effects on the Cardiovascular System.” National Institutes of Health, 2017. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
- WHF. “The Impact of Alcohol Consumption on Cardiovascular Health.” World Health Federation, 2022. world-heart-federation.org
- NIDA. “NIH study shows steep increase in rate of alcohol-related ER visits.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2018. niaaa.nih.gov
- CDC. “Alcohol Use and Your Health.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2022. cdc.gov