Is Binge Drinking Damaging Your Heart?

Health Professional

Occasionally splurging on alcohol once or twice a week is no big deal, right? New research published in the British Medical Journal this past November 2010 would argue otherwise. Researchers found heavy drinking or binge drinking a couple days a week worse for the heart than drinking a moderate amount of alcohol throughout the week.

The study

Researchers investigated the effects of alcohol intake patterns on ischemic heart disease in Northern Ireland and France, two countries with contrasting lifestyles.
The 10 year study analyzed the Prospective Epidemiological Study of Myocardial Infarction (PRIME) for 9778 men (2405 men from Belfast, Northern Ireland and 7373 men from France) between the ages of 50-59 years-old.

The participating men were divided into four groups - non-drinkers, former drinkers, regular drinkers, and binge drinkers. Binge drinking was defined as excessive alcohol consumption equivalent to 4 or 5 drinks in a short period of time, such as a weekend day.

Through interviews and questionnaires study assessed alcohol consumption:

  1. Incidence of binge drinking
  2. Incidence of regular drinking
  3. Volume of alcohol intake
  4. Frequency of alcohol consumption
  5. Types of alcohol consumed

The study also took into account cardiovascular risk factors, such as blood pressure, waist circumference, physical activity, and belly fat.

The results

The study looked at the relationship between alcohol intake patterns and heart attacks, coronary deaths, and angina pectoris events.

Researchers found middle-aged men in France and Belfast drink about the same quantity of alcohol per week. However, the men in Belfast tend to binge drink at a higher level by consuming the same quantity of alcohol within one or two days compared to the French intake which is spread out over the period of one week.

Another difference is the type of alcohol intake. Men in France tend to drink wine in moderation which has been shown to protect against heart disease, while men in Belfast prefer beer and liquor.

The results show men who binge drink are nearly twice as likely to suffer a heart attack of death related to heart disease compared to regular drinkers.

The risks

Excess alcohol consumption doesn't only impact heart health, but also leads to cirrhosis of the liver, pancreatitis, and certain cancers.

Be sure to grab the special report "How to Make Heart Healthy Changes into Lifelong Habits" provided by Health Central dietitian Lisa Nelson at