What are the Effects of Alcohol on Heart Rate?

C. Daw

To what extent alcohol affects the body has been a subject of debate for a long time, and still continues today. The damaging effects that alcohol can have on a person’s liver over a period of time is already common knowledge among most people. However, the effects of alcohol on heart rate is not commonly discussed, but the dangerous consequences may include diseases of the heart, damage to the heart and even death.

Alcohol can affect a drinker's heart rate.
Alcohol can affect a drinker's heart rate.

Another impact of alcohol on heart rate is known as supraventricular tachycardia (SVT). This occurs when a person’s heart starts to beat extremely fast and it is not caused by exercise, sickness or stress. A normal heart rate is between sixty and one hundred beats per minute, but when SVT occurs the heart beat can rise between one hundred and three hundred beats per minute. In most cases, the heart rate restores itself to normal by the time the person reaches the doctor, but it can cause more severe complications.

Alcohol can cause a person's heart to beat very fast, which is a condition called supraventricular tachycardia.
Alcohol can cause a person's heart to beat very fast, which is a condition called supraventricular tachycardia.

Alcohol has been linked to the increased occurrence of paroxysmal attacks in a person. Paroxysmal attacks cause a person to have convulsions and can be very damaging to a person. Another effect of alcohol on heart rate is that it can cause damage or injury to the heart and can cause paroxysmal or sudden cardiac arrhythmia. When this condition occurs, without any other signs of heart disease, this is referred to as holiday heart. Sudden death among alcoholics where no other cause can be detected, cardiac arrhythmia is often suspected.

Other effects of alcohol on heart rate are that it can cause irregular heartbeat which is referred to as atrail fibrillation. Heavy drinkers, or those who drink an average of three or more drinks a day, are at a forty-six percent higher rate to developing an irregular heartbeat. Ethanol is found in alcohol and works as a nervous system depressant and when taken in excessive quantities, it will cause the heart rate to decrease. Alcohol will initially cause a person’s heart rate to increase, but when the blood alcohol level rises above 0.25 percent the heart rate starts to decrease, and when it reaches 0.35 percent the heart rate will be at a dangerously low rate, which can cause a person to fall into a coma. This lowered heart rate can cause severe damage to the body and if low enough, death can result.

Alcohol can cause a person to experience an irregular heartbeat.
Alcohol can cause a person to experience an irregular heartbeat.

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Discussion Comments


I've recently noticed that having a drink seems to give me irregular heartbeat, but it's only noticeable when I go to bed. When I wake up, it's gone.


@stoneMason-- Yea, a racing heart after alcohol is very common. Every person has different tolerance levels. Some people are more sensitive to the effects of alcohol, but it really can happen o anyone who drinks.

What happens is that alcohol causes blood vessels to relax and enlarge. This means more blood flow to the heart, and a faster heart rate.

Heart patients or people who already have high blood pressure or arrhythmia are at greater risk. The whole idea that wine is good for the health is really not true. Alcohol doesn't have much benefit for the heart. The benefits from the antioxidants are not worth the risks from the its other effects on the organs.


I can also say from experience that alcohol causes irregular heart beat. I experienced it a few times when I drank way too much and mixed several types of alcohol together. It felt like my heart was racing, and was skipping a beat once in a while. It was scary so I make sure not to drink too much any more.


I was just about to say that alcohol should actually reduce heart rate because it's a nervous system depressant. But the last paragraph clarified it for me.

I've known for some time now that alcohol depresses the nervous system. This causes all life functions to slow down, especially breathing and heart rate. In fact, excessive drinkers may die because of respiratory system shut down for this reason. The same logic applies to heart rate. Just as the lungs may shut down, the heart could do the same.

So I guess alcohol can both increase and decrease heart rate.

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