Alcohol directly influences excitation of myocytes (cardiac muscle cells), and therefore provokes arrhythmias and possibly, sudden cardiac death. So in short, alcohol can cause a heart attack when it is consumed in large amounts. In addition excessive long-term use of alcohol can increase the risk of developing an array of heart problems which may also lead to a heart attack. This is because, drinking alcohol at this level can:
The name Holiday Heart Syndrome (HHS) was coined in 19787 by Philip Ettinger, for describing the occurrence of an acute cardiac rhythm disturbance in apparently healthy people after an episode of heavy drinking, leaving no cardiac disturbance with subsequent abstinence, leaving no indication of a heart disease. HHS gets its name because the condition tends to increase around holiday times or after weekends, when people tend to drink more8.
Individuals experiencing the cardiac disturbance (AF), feel breathless as the blood pressure rise. In fact people feel like they might be having a heart attack – characterized by severe pain in the center of the chest.
According to the US National Library of Medicine AF, is the most frequent cardiac arrhythmia in HHS, and it has shown to be a major risk factor for stroke and increased mortality, indirectly suggesting an association between HHS and stroke or death, which may explain some of the sudden death cases commonly reported in alcoholics.
(1) British Heart Foundation website. Dilated cardiomyopathy. Available at:
(2) Shi, P., Chen, Y., Guo, M., & Yu, H. (2014). acute effects of alcohol on heart rate variability: Time-related changes and gender difference. Biomedical Engineering Applications, Basis and Communications, 26(3), np-np. doi:10.4015/S1016237214500483
(3) 7 Buckman, J. F., Eddie, D., Vaschillo, E. G., Vaschillo, B., Garcia, A., & Bates, M. E. (2015). Immediate and complex cardiovascular adaptation to an Acute alcohol dose. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 39(12), 2334-2344. doi:10.1111/acer.12912
(5) National Heart Foundation. Arrithymias. Retrieved from - http://www.heartfoundation.org.au/SiteCollectionDocuments/Arrhythmias.pdf
(6). Tonelo, D., Providencia, R., & Goncalves, L., (2013). Holiday Heart Syndrome Revisted after 34 years, 101(2)., 183-18/9
(7) Menz V, Grimm W, Hoffmann J, Maisch B. PubMed,1996 ‘Alcohol and rhythm disturbance: the holiday heart syndrome’, vol. 21, no. 4, pp. 227-31. Abstract available online at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8805002
(8) Ettinger PO, Wu CF, De La Cruz C, Weisse AB, Ahmed SS, Regan TJ (May 1978),. ‘"Arrhythmias and the "Holiday Heart": alcohol-associated cardiac rhythm disorders’",. Am. Heart Journal. Available at: