The UK is known for its drinking culture, and many people use alcohol – often to excess. It’s estimated that 24% of adults in England and Scotland regularly drink over the Chief Medical Officer’s low-risk guidelines, while 27% of drinkers in Great Britain binge drink on their heaviest drinking days.

Alcohol is linked to a number of different health conditions, including liver disease, depression and several types of cancer. It can also affect the heart and cardiovascular system. If you experience chest pain after drinking alcohol, it might be a relatively minor issue, but in some cases, it might indicate a more serious problem.

How Does Alcohol Affect the Body?

When you drink alcohol, it quickly passes into your bloodstream and travels to every part of your body, with a variety of different effects.

One of the main effects is on the brain, with alcohol typically causing intoxication or drunkenness. This can affect your mood, behaviour, cognitive abilities and coordination, among other things.

Drinking can also have a number of short- and long-term effects on other parts of the body. The liver, for example, does most of the work in eliminating harmful toxins from your system, including alcohol. Heavy or frequent drinking can put the organ under extra pressure, potentially leading to alcohol-related liver disease or inflammation and scarring known as cirrhosis. Alcohol can also have negative impacts on your stomach and digestive system, your immune system and even bone density.

Alcohol use also has complex effects on cardiovascular (CV) health and has been linked with conditions including hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke, peripheral arterial disease, and cardiomyopathy.

One of the main effects of alcohol on the heart is due to the fact that drinking can cause hypertension or high blood pressure. This puts extra strain on the heart muscle and can lead to cardiovascular disease (CVD), increasing your risk of heart attack and stroke.

Many of the CVDs mentioned above can provide a link between drinking alcohol and chest pain. High blood pressure, for example, can affect the elasticity of the arteries, decreasing blood flow and oxygen to the heart and resulting in chest pain.

Another possibility is angina, which is chest pain due to a temporary reduction of blood flow to the heart. This may be an indicator of more serious heart or cardiovascular problems. Alcohol can also trigger or worsen symptoms of heartburn in some people.

What Are the Potential Health Risks?

Regularly drinking too much alcohol can have serious consequences for the whole cardiovascular system, including increased risks of heart attacks and other serious cardiovascular events. The link between alcohol and high blood pressure is well documented, as is the link between alcohol and various types of heart disease. Alcoholic cardiomyopathy (ACM) is a condition involving physical damage to the heart that was identified as far back as 1877.

Bingeing alcohol appears to be able to cause potentially dangerous arrhythmia (abnormalities in the heartbeat) even among otherwise healthy people. Alcohol-related arrhythmia has been described as ‘Holiday Heart Syndrome’ as symptoms were observed more frequently after holidays and weekends, where binge drinking was more likely to occur.

Some other causes of alcohol-related chest pain could include gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a condition in which stomach acid repeatedly flows back up into the tube connecting the mouth and stomach. Musculoskeletal pain can be triggered by alcohol consumption, which can affect the chest area as well as other parts of the body.

Yet another possibility could be anxiety and panic attacks induced by drinking. Alcohol can impact mental health and is linked with depression as well as anxiety. Anxiety can cause a surge of adrenaline and cortisol, which in turn trigger a rapid rise in heart rate and blood pressure. As a result, many people experience chest pain and sweating, along with difficulty breathing.

When Should You Be Concerned About Chest Pain After Drinking?

Experiencing chest pain either while or after drinking can be very worrying. In many cases the cause might be something temporary and relatively minor. Chest pain after drinking may well be an indication of something more serious, though, and it can be difficult to know the cause without a medical assessment.

It is always best to seek medical advice for chest pains as there may be a serious underlying cause. This is particularly the case for severe chest pain that does not go away and chest pain that spreads to your right or left arm, neck, jaw, back or stomach.

Chest pain combined with other symptoms, including shortness of breath, a sudden feeling of nausea or lightheadedness, can also be signs that you should seek emergency help.

The best way to prevent alcohol-related chest pain is to stop drinking or cut down on the amount of alcohol you drink. There are some steps you can take yourself, such as keeping a drinking diary, setting limits when you do drink and committing to drink-free days.

If you have an alcohol dependency or addiction, though, it can be very difficult to quit or even cut down. Alcohol addiction treatment can help you get through detox and any withdrawal symptoms, as well as address the psychological aspects of alcohol addiction.

Any treatment options for alcohol-related chest pains will depend on the underlying medical causes. As well as dealing with specific health conditions, it is important to address issues of alcohol misuse, as continuing to drink could make any condition worse, hamper your chances of recovery or increase the risk of a relapse.

If you are concerned about your drinking and the impact it is having on your health – including chest pains – it may be time to seek professional help. Get in touch today to find out how we can help you take back control of your drinking and health.

John Gillen - Author - Last updated: June 21, 2024

John is one UK’s leading professionals in the addiction recovery industry. Pioneering new treatment techniques such as NAD+ and ongoing research into new therapy techniques such as systematic laser therapy, John is committed to providing the very best treatment for people throughout the UK and Europe. During his extremely busy schedule, John likes to regularly update our blog section with the latest news and trends in the industry to keep visitors to our site as well informed as possible on everything related to addiction treatment.