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Alcohol and the heart

Drinking alcohol comes with risks to health, and not drinking alcohol is a healthy choice. If you drink alcohol it’s important to keep within recommended guidelines – whether you drink every day, once or twice a week or just occasionally.

Heavy or binge drinking episodes increase risk of heart disease even in people who don’t usually drink much.

Scientific research, reported in our 'Alcohol and the heart' - Evidence Paper, suggests that there may be some benefits of alcohol for reducing heart disease for some people. However, this is not true for everyone, even when consumption is low or moderate. Our 'Alcohol and the heart' - Position Statement concludes that the relationship between alcohol and cardiovascular disease is complex, and for most people there will be little, or no, overall benefit.

Alcohol can have a range of harmful health effects. As there is no safe drinking threshold for many of the impacts, there is no potential 'window of benefit' where benefits can be gained without risk of harm. Alcohol shouldn't be thought of as a safe or effective treatment for heart disease.

Alcohol is also high in calories, so, if you are trying to lose weight, reducing your alcohol intake, eating a heart healthy diet and regular physical activity could help you reach your goal.

How much can I safely drink?

If you do drink alcohol, we recommend following the Health Promotion Agency’s low-risk drinking advice.

Reduce your long-term health risks by drinking no more than:

  • 2 standard drinks a day for women and no more than 10 standard drinks a week
  • 3 standard drinks a day for men and no more than 15 standard drinks a week
  • AND at least two alcohol-free days every week.

Reduce your risk on a single drinking occasion by drinking no more than:

  • 4 standard drinks for women
  • 5 standard drinks for men

However, these limits could be too high for people with excess body fat around their waist, high blood triglycerides, high blood pressure, problem-drinking or heart failure.

What is a standard drink?

Alcoholic drinksOne standard drink
Wine100ml (sherry glass size)
Spirits - gin, vodka, brandy, whiskey30ml (2Tbsp or 1 nip)
Ready To Drink (RTD) spirits (*% alcohol or less)200ml (less than 1 bottle)
Regular beer (5% alcohol)250ml (less than 1 bottle)
Regular beer (4% alcohol)330ml (1 bottle)
Light beer500ml (1 1/2 bottles)
Lower carb beer330ml (1 bottle)
Low alcohol beer (1% alcohol)3 bottles+ (e.g Mac's Light)

When is drinking alcohol NOT recommended?

Abstinence from alcohol is recommended in the following conditions:

If you think you may be drinking too much, or know someone who has a drinking problem talk to your doctor or practice nurse.

For further information please visit the Health Promotion Agency’s website.

For more information about 'Alcohol and the Heart' you can download our Q and As below:

Alcohol and heart health