A glass or two of wine in the evening can help us relax and unwind. This is because alcohol is classified as a central nervous system depressant, meaning that it slows down brain functioning and neural activity. However, alcohol can also have the opposite effect on your cardiovascular system, causing your heart to beat faster. And the more you drink, the greater the increase.

For most healthy adults, a temporary increase in their heart rate caused by one or two drinks is probably not something to worry about. But it could be a major problem for people who have conditions that cause irregular heart rhythms, such as atrial fibrillation, or for those at high risk of heart attacks or strokes.

A group of researchers analysed data from 32 different clinical trials of alcohol consumption involving healthy young men in their 20s and 30s. The results showed distinct patterns in how alcohol affected their heart rates and blood pressure.

A normal resting heart rate for adults is between 60–100 beats/minute. The researchers found that consuming one standard drink — generally defined as 10ml or 8g of pure alcohol — tended to elevate the participants’ heart rates by about five beats/minute in the 6 hours that followed. With two or more drinks, the increase in heart rate was greater, and heart rates remained slightly elevated up to 24 hours later.

Alcohol also had distinct effects on blood pressure. After more than two drinks, blood pressure levels fell at first and then begin to climb, eventually becoming slightly elevated about 13 hours after they drank. The findings support other studies that have shown that light drinking can be slightly beneficial to cardiovascular health, causing your blood vessels to dilate and blood pressure to fall, but that having more than two drinks on one occasion can stress your circulation.

It is well known that people who are chronic drinkers of alcohol have a higher risk of heart-related issues than people who do not drink. Circulatory system complications can include high blood pressure, an irregular heartbeat, difficulty pumping blood through the body, stroke, heart attack, heart disease and heart failure. In addition, women who drink alcohol are more likely to develop heart disease than men who drink.

The effect of alcohol on the heart is just one of the conditions highlighted by Alcohol Awareness Week, which takes place from 15–21st November. The charity Alcohol Change UK claims that 20 people die every day as a result of their drinking.

If you, a friend, or a member of your family needs help addressing their alcohol consumption, AlphaBiolabs offers a range of alcohol testing solutions. These include blood alcohol testing, instant breath tests, nail clippings and 3- or 6-month hair analyses to show alcohol consumption over a period of time.

Real-time results are also available with SmartMobile™ Portable Alcohol Monitoring and SCRAM Continuous Alcohol Monitoring®.

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