Effects of alcohol on young people with a heart condition

Photo of various alcoholic drinks

If you are a young person living with a heart condition it is important to know the effects drinking alcohol can have on your heart.

Make sure you avoid energy drink mixers and Jägerbombs as they can increase your heart rate

Niamh, 23

Regardless of whether you have a heart condition or not, alcohol can cause abnormal heart rhythms, high blood pressure, damage to your heart muscle and other diseases such as stroke, liver problems and some cancers.

Drinking alcohol can also lead to weight gain - both because it is high in calories, but also because people often find it harder to stick to your healthy eating plans when they've been drinking.

I have a heart condition, is it safe for me to drink?

For most people living with a heart condition it is ok to drink a moderate amount of alcohol.

But if you have been diagnosed with certain conditions, such as some types of cardiomyopathy, you might need to avoid drinking alcohol altogether. Check with your doctor for advice on whether it is safe for you to drink alcohol and how much.

If you are taking medication, check with your doctor or pharmacist about how much alcohol you can drink.

I have recently been in hospital, when can I drink alcohol again?

If you’ve recently been unwell or in hospital with a heart condition, or have undergone heart surgery, you should ask your doctor for advice on when you can start drinking alcohol again.

If you are taking sleeping tablets or painkillers, remember that they will interact with the alcohol and the mix is likely to make you very sleepy or very drunk.

Everyone should avoid drinking too much alcohol but this is particularly important if you are taking anticoagulant medication like warfarin. Too much alcohol can interfere with the blood clotting process, so if you do drink alcohol it is better to have just a small amount regularly. Your anticoagulant clinic will be able to advise you on this.

How much can I drink?

In the UK it is illegal to buy alcohol before you are 18.

The government guidelines for drinking alcohol are:

  • No more than 14 units a week 
  • Several alcohol free days a week

Most people don’t drink alcohol every day - but if you do, you should start having some days off. If you do drink as much as 14 units per week, spread this out evenly over three days or more.

Drinking large amounts of alcohol in one go can cause additional damage to your body, so avoid heavy or ‘binge’ drinking – you can’t save up your units. If you drink too much, avoid alcohol for at least 48 hours to allow your body time to recover

How much is one unit of alcohol?

A unit is a measure of alcohol. The number of units is based on the size of the drink and its alcohol strength (ABV).

The ABV (alcohol by volume) figure is the percentage of alcohol in the drink.

  • A single pub measure (25mls) of spirits (40% ABV) contains one unit of alcohol.
  • A glass (50 ml) of liqueur, sherry or other fortified wine (20% ABV) contains one unit of alcohol.
  • Half a pint (about 300mls) of normal strength (4.0% ABV) lager, cider or beer contains 1.1 units of alcohol - be aware that many beers and ciders are stronger and have a higher volume than this.
  • A standard 175ml glass of wine (13% ABV) would be 2.3 unit - be aware that many wines have a higher alcohol content and the size of glasses may be bigger.

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Do you want to meet other young people like you?

Are you over 13 and living with a heart condition in the UK? Join one of our young peoples support programmes.

They are a great way to get information, help and support, and meet other young heart patients at free events.

Find out more