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If You Do This Everyday, You're at Risk for Heart Attack, Says Doctor

Functionality of such a critical organ system should be understood and discussed.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

The cardiovascular system is what keeps you alive. During the average human lifetime, the heart beats roughly 2.5 billion times. Simply put: if oxygenated blood and nutrients are not circulating in the body, the body cannot survive. In addition to the fact that nearly all adults in the United States have at least one form of heart disease, any condition that threatens the functionality of such a critical organ system should be well understood and discussed. It will help develop strategies that can be put in place to reduce the risk of developing heart disease or worsening a current condition. No matter the medical specialty or subspecialty, cardiovascular health plays a significant role in determining proper treatment, and this of course includes addiction medicine. Numerous studies and analyses have been performed that have shown a clear link between substance use and cardiovascular disease. Individuals with any type of substance use disorder are more than twice as likely to have cardiovascular disease compared to those who do not have a substance use disorder. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


This Is How Drugs Affect Your Heart

Asian young woman feeling discomfort as suffering from heartburn holding chest with closed eyes and sitting with folded legs on couch at home.

All drugs of abuse affect the cardiovascular system in some way, so it is very common for patients seeking treatment for addiction to present with heart disease. The country has seen a staggering increase in overdose death rates, particularly in the past five years. Opioids, namely, the illicit synthetic opioid fentanyl, and psychostimulants, like methamphetamine, were responsible for a large percentage of overdose deaths in 2020. The usage of opioids and methamphetamine is continuing to rise nationwide. Addiction treatment providers are now likely to experience a steady influx of patients with various types of heart diseases — opioid use disorder and stimulant use disorder are strongly associated with hemorrhagic stroke, ischemic stroke, ischemic heart disease, heart failure, heart attack and arrhythmias in addition to many other subtypes of cardiovascular disease. Synthetic opioids in particular can affect the cardiac conduction system, which can lead to a rare condition called torsade de pointes, a type of ventricular tachycardia that can cause sudden cardiac arrest and death. Every 36 seconds, someone dies from cardiovascular disease; as is the case with addiction, nearly everyone will somehow be impacted. 


This Is How Alcohol Affects Your Heart

drinking alcohol

One way in which alcohol consumption increases the risk of cardiovascular disease is through the effect alcohol has on an individual's blood pressure and their lipid profile. Alcohol use is associated with an increased risk of developing hypertension, which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Some research has also indicated that heavy drinking and binge drinking are associated with an increase in triglycerides, total cholesterol, carotid intimal and medial thickness, accumulation of calcium in the coronary artery, and atherosclerosis in the peripheral artery. These are all known cardiovascular disease risk factors and atherosclerosis is the primary cause for a number of cardiovascular diseases.


Doesn't One Drink Per Day Actually Help My Heart?

woman drinking wine alcohol at home

No, an average of one drink per day helping a person's heart is not benefiting anyone's cardiovascular health. No amount of alcohol benefits the heart. In addition to the JAMA report, the World Heart Federation recently listed a number of reasons why the commonly held belief that alcohol is good for the heart is no longer accepted. Reasons listed include:

  • Evidence is mostly based on observational studies
  • Studies have primarily been conducted in Caucasian populations older than 55
  • Some studies that show positive effects were funded by the alcohol industry

The World Heart Federation also speaks of new research that has challenged previous findings associating moderate alcohol consumption with lower cardiovascular disease risk and higher cardiovascular disease risk with higher alcohol consumption.


Long Term Alcohol Use Can Give You Psychosis

Woman fainted

For the cardiovascular system, alcohol use is associated with hemorrhagic stroke, ischemic stroke, cerebrovascular disease, heart failure, cardiac arrhythmias, ischemic heart disease, atrial fibrillation and other cardiovascular diseases. Various types of cancer have a direct relation to the consumption of alcohol. It is the primary cause of liver cancer, linked to the development of head and neck cancers, specifically of the larynx, mouth, esophagus and throat, and increases the risk of developing colorectal and breast cancer. Alcohol's effect on the central nervous system is also extensive. Long-term alcohol use shrinks the brain and drinking for an extended period of time leads to deficiencies in thiamine or vitamin B1. This specific deficiency can lead to the development of Wernicke's encephalopathy and Korsakoff's psychosis, together called Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. Wernicke's encephalopathy can lead to debilitating confusion and ocular abnormalities like nystagmus, which is a condition where the eyes make repetitive and uncontrolled movements. Nearly all who experience Wernicke's encephalopathy will develop Korsakoff's psychosis, which results in memory deficits, difficulty with coordination, behavioral changes and anterograde amnesia, which is the inability to create new memories. Long-term alcohol use affects red and white blood cells, which is why many people with alcohol use disorder are anemic and susceptible to infections.


Other Side Effects of Alcohol on Your Body

young woman holding face in bed in the dark dealing with insomnia or poor sleep

Other negative effects of alcohol can vary based on the time of day alcohol is consumed. When ethanol is metabolized, a chemical called acetaldehyde is produced. This chemical causes increased sensitivity to UV light, can damage cells, and therefore increase the risk of developing skin cancer. Dehydration is a side effect of alcohol use as is disruption of the body's circadian rhythm and a reduction in REM sleep, which increases the chance of movement and can result in physically reacting to a dream or sleepwalking.


Signs You May Have Alcohol Problem

man pouring a glass of wine

Signs that alcohol use has become dangerous include:

  • The inability to limit drinking or you want to quit but can't
  • Intense craving or thinking about alcohol
  • Continuing to drink despite adverse consequences
  • Neglecting responsibilities at work, home or school
  • Drinking to relax
  • Alcohol takes up much of your time, energy and focus
  • Drinking more to receive the desired effect
  • Withdrawal symptoms, including shaking or trembling, sweating, irritability, loss of appetite or depression
  • Cutting back on activities that were once important or interesting
  • Experienced situations during or after drinking that increased your chances of being harmed or getting hurt.


What to Do To if You Notice Any of These Signs

talk to doctor

After coming to the realization that you have a problematic relationship with alcohol, which is a very significant step, reaching out to your primary care physician would be suggested. They can assess your health, level of alcohol consumption, and can make referrals to addiction treatment facilities where adequate treatment measures can be administered like detoxing under the care of medical professionals who can make the process as comfortable as possible, providing necessary medications and delivering necessary behavioral health care. And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Dr. Lawrence Weinstein is a chief medical officer of American Addiction Centers.

Dr. Lawrence Weinstein
Dr. Lawrence Weinstein was appointed chief medical officer of American Addiction Centers in August 2018. Read more about Dr. Lawrence