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Alcohol abuse can harm your body in many different ways, but if your chest hurts after drinking alcohol, the worst thing you could do is ignore it and hope it will go away. Experiencing chest pain after drinking alcohol could be a sign of cardiomyopathy, which is a condition that is worsened by heavy alcohol use and can cause heart failure.
When it comes to alcohol and chest pain, the best course of action is always to see a doctor as soon as possible. Although online resources may provide clues to identify potential health problems, a doctor will provide a thorough assessment to identify what is causing the pain and provide proper treatment for a healthy recovery.
How Does Alcohol Affect the Heart?
Some people like to justify their alcohol consumption with scientific studies that have suggested moderate amounts of alcohol (specifically red wine) may help increase levels of HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol) and protect the heart due to its rich antioxidants. However, you can get the same health benefits with exercise and healthy foods, without ever sipping alcohol.
Although a small amount of alcohol consumption may provide health benefits, it’s all about moderation. Heavy drinking has long been linked to a long list of health problems, including heart conditions. Unhealthy drinking habits, such as chronic heavy drinking, binge drinking, or any other type of excessive alcohol consumption can lead to:1,2
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Cardiomyopathy (a disorder that affects the heart muscle)
- Cardiovascular disease (CVD)
- Heart failure
Research studies provide a very clear correlation between chronic and excessive alcohol abuse and high blood pressure. Over time, hypertension puts a lot of strain on the heart muscle, which can lead to heart attacks, stroke, and cardiovascular disease.
As a result, if you’ve been drinking excessive amounts of alcohol for months or years, chances are you likely need to cut back or stop drinking completely if you want to avoid alcohol-related heart problems.
Can Alcohol Cause Chest Pain?
Yes, alcohol may sometimes cause chest pain even in seemingly healthy individuals. Instances of heart pain or chest pain and irregular heartbeat may be noticeable during hangovers or when a person is experiencing alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Chronic heavy drinking will also make the heart muscle expand and weaken, which can lead to heart pain and heart disease.
Possible Causes of Chest Pain After Drinking Alcohol
Some people may experience chest pain when drinking alcohol and it can be mild or severe. Not surprisingly, consistent alcohol abuse can cause serious and common heart problems, so any chest pain could be an indicator of a health problem or even a potentially life-threatening health condition. Here are some of the possible causes of chest pain after drinking alcohol.
- Alcohol Cardiomyopathy
Alcohol cardiomyopathy is a form of heart disease that is caused by alcohol abuse. It occurs when long-term alcohol abuse weakens and thins the heart muscle, which inhibits your heart’s ability to pump blood efficiently. The disruption of blood flow affects lots of major bodily functions and can lead to serious health problems or even heart failure. Most men and women who suffer from alcohol cardiomyopathy have abused alcohol for 5 to 15 years.3 Although it’s a very serious health problem, prompt treatment and giving up alcohol completely may prevent it from getting worse.
- Hangover Anxiety
Hangover anxiety, also known as hangxiety, involves experiencing the usual symptoms of a hangover (headache, nausea, sensitivity to light, etc.) but with additional psychological symptoms too. Anxiety, in particular, is a commonly reported symptom and may also present with chest tightness or chest pain. Alcohol-induced anxiety during a night of drinking may also be a culprit of chest pain.
Sometimes, pain in the lower chest can also be a sign of pancreatitis. If you have chronic pancreatitis, alcohol consumption can make it worse and damage your pancreas even more. About 70 percent of pancreatitis cases may be attributable to chronic, heavy alcohol consumption.4 Regardless, the damage caused by pancreatitis may be irreversible so if you are experiencing chest pain that could be due to pancreatitis, you should see a doctor immediately.
- Alcohol and Drug Interactions
If you are taking prescription drugs for health reasons or you’re abusing other drugs like cocaine, interactions with these substances and alcohol may cause chest pain. Smoking cigarettes can also irritate the lungs, but when combined with alcohol, the two can increase blood pressure and exacerbate acid reflux, which may also result in chest pain.
- Acid Reflux
Excessive alcohol consumption can cause acid reflux, which can be extremely uncomfortable. Although drinking alcohol with certain foods can trigger acid reflux attacks, studies also show alcohol abuse on its own can worsen symptoms of acid reflux if you already have it and may also damage the inner lining of your esophagus.5
Alcohol can also be very dehydrating, so when it is regularly abused in large quantities, it can severely disrupt the balance of electrolytes in your body. Dehydration and depleted levels of electrolytes can lead to heart palpitations which may cause chest pain.6
- Undiagnosed Cancer
Irritation of the lymph nodes caused by Hodgkin Lymphoma (HL) may sometimes present as pain in the chest.7 If you have undiagnosed HL, you may experience chest pain when drinking alcohol. HL can be deadly but if it is diagnosed in its early stages, treatment is likely to provide more favorable outcomes.
What To Do If Alcohol Is Causing Chest Pain
If you experience mild or severe heart pain after drinking, you should see a doctor. Doing so will ensure that you can identify any possible health problems or conditions as early as possible and get proper treatment. Ignoring the problem or delaying a visit to a medical health professional may result in serious health problems or more discomfort due to other physical symptoms.
Alcohol abuse can also trigger a heart attack, so if you experience any severe chest pain that radiates to other parts of your body (such as your arms or back), you have difficulty breathing, and the symptoms last for longer than 15 minutes, you should go to the hospital.8
How to Prevent Alcohol Chest Pain
The best way to prevent alcohol chest pain is to cut back on your alcohol consumption or stop drinking. Seeing a doctor to determine the underlying cause of your chest pain will provide you with more information so you can make an educated decision about changing your drinking habits.
If you find that you can’t cut back or stop drinking alcohol, you likely have alcohol use disorder, which will require treatment. Other signs of alcohol addiction include:9
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when the effects of the alcohol wear off
- Drinking much more or longer than you intended
- Spending a lot of time drinking or recovering from drinking
- Continuing to drink even though it’s causing problems with your health, relationships, and work
- Needing more alcohol to achieve the effects you desire (developing a tolerance)
- Feeling strong cravings or urges to drink alcohol
Get Help for Alcohol Addiction
Maybe you have chest pain after drinking alcohol but you still can’t seem to moderate your drinking or stop altogether. If this sounds like you, you may have alcohol use disorder (AUD). Alcohol addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease that requires more than just your willpower to overcome it. You’ll likely need professional detox to stop drinking and residential or outpatient rehab to make positive behavioral changes that will help you stay sober.
Quitting alcohol and staying sober isn’t easy, but it’s a life-changing decision that you surely won’t regret. A medically-assisted alcohol detox program can ensure that you get sober safely and comfortably with professional support.
Start your new sober life today by calling (888) 857-0557. A Briarwood admissions representative is waiting to take your call and answer any questions you have about alcohol detox treatment.