Can alcohol cause heart damage?

Drinking in moderation OK for most people

cocktailDrinking alcohol in moderation, along with an overall healthy lifestyle, is acceptable for most individuals, says Dr. Michael Shea, who specializes in internal medicine and cardiovascular disease at the University of Michigan. “Moderation” is defined by the American Heart Association as an average of one to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.

According to the AHA, a drink is:

  • 12 ounces of beer
  • 4 ounces of wine
  • 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits
  • 1 ounce of 100-proof spirits

What are the dangers of too much alcohol?

However, Dr. Shea warns, non-drinkers should not start drinking based on this information. “Too much alcohol can cause direct damage to heart cells as well as nutritional and vitamin deficiencies.” So the answer to the question “Can alcohol cause heart damage?” is yes, if you drink too much of it. In addition, drinking alcohol can lead to alcoholism, high blood pressure, obesity, stroke, breast cancer, suicide and accidents, so moderation is critical.

Although drinking one glass of red wine a day is marketed as beneficial to the heart, Dr. Shea says there is no conclusive research or studies that support this claim. “Some people believe that red wine is better than other types of alcohol, but the evidence is lacking.”

Ongoing studies are examining the potential benefits of components in red wine such as flavonoids and other antioxidants (the same antioxidants found in many fruits and vegetables) in reducing heart disease risk, but no direct comparison trials have been done to determine the specific effect of wine or other alcohol on the risk of developing heart disease or stroke.


University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center Logo - blueThe University of Michigan Samuel and Jean Frankel Cardiovascular Center is the top-ranked heart and heart surgery program among Michigan hospitals. To learn more, visit the Heart and Vascular page on UofMHealth.org.