Chest Pain After Drinking Alcohol: What Does It Mean?

*Post medically reviewed by Vicky Magobet on August 1, 2022

Whether you experience a slight squeeze or a sharp stabbing sensation, chest tightness or pain can be scary. You may wonder if your drinking habits could cause this frightening side effect — the answer is yes.

Drinking too much alcohol can be traumatic for your body, causing serious issues like hypertension and heart damage. Keep reading to learn more about chest pain or tightness after drinking alcohol and what you can do to protect your health. 

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Why Does My Chest Hurt When I Drink Alcohol?

How Do Your Drinking Habits Affect Your Heart Health?

When Is It Time to Seek Help?

How Can I Prevent Chest Pain From Alcohol?

How to Stop Chest Pain After Drinking Alcohol?

How Alcohol Addiction Treatment Can Help With Chest Pain

Why Does My Chest Hurt When I Drink Alcohol?

Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol harms the body in many ways. Perhaps you experience some chest pain after a night of heavy drinking. Or, maybe you suspect your alcohol use is contributing to some heart issues. While only a doctor can say for sure, alcohol misuse can have immediate and lasting physical effects. Here are some main reasons you may be experiencing chest pain after consuming alcohol:

  • Acid reflux: The most common cause of non-heart-related chest pain is gastroesophageal reflux disease or acid reflux. Drinking alcohol triggers acid reflux, and it can damage your body's lower esophageal sphincter (LES). This muscle connects your esophagus to your stomach. When it weakens, stomach acid can splash up from the stomach into the esophagus, causing chest-pain-like symptoms or a burning sensation.
  • Alcohol-induced anxiety: Alcohol affects the levels of serotonin, adrenaline and other neurotransmitters in your brain. If you already struggle with stress or anxiety disorder, having an alcoholic drink can worsen your symptoms. You may feel better at first, but heavy drinking can lead to a rapid or irregular heartbeat, chest pain or panic attacks.
  • Organ stress: Drinking alcohol has temporary and long-lasting effects on your heart. Every time you drink, alcohol increases your heart rate and blood pressure, causing the organ to pump more blood throughout your body. While this side effect can be temporary, heavy drinking and other problems with alcohol use can lead to long-term symptoms like weakened heart muscles, irregular heartbeat, high cholesterol levels or high blood pressure — possibly leading to chest pain or tightness.

How Do Your Drinking Habits Affect Your Heart Health?

Chronic alcohol misuse can contribute to hypertension. Also called high blood pressure, this condition can damage the heart over time and increase risk factors like:

  • Heart failure
  • Heart attack
  • Thickening of the left ventricle
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Heart disease
  • Heart palpitations
  • Atrial fibrillation

Severe drinking habits can also lead to alcoholic cardiomyopathy, which is when your heart's muscles overstretch and eventually weaken, changing your heart's size. Alcoholic cardiomyopathy can cause scar tissue to build up in your heart.

The change in your heart's shape and excessive scarring can disrupt your nervous system and how effectively it regulates your heart rate and blood flow. Some main symptoms that indicate you may have alcohol cardiomyopathy include:

  • Bulging blood vessels in your neck
  • Swelling in your feet or ankles
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Decreased appetite
  • Coughing
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing

While alcoholic cardiomyopathy's symptoms are severe, the disease itself is rare. Only 1% to 2% of heavy alcohol users develop this condition. Genetics and exposure to other substances also determine an individual's likelihood of developing alcoholic cardiomyopathy.

When Is It Time to Seek Help?

If you experience chest pains or tightness after consuming alcohol, you're probably looking for answers as to why.  While there are multiple possibilities, your next steps should be to stop drinking immediately and visit your health care provider. Only a medical professional can properly diagnose the chest pain or tightness you may be experiencing.

Chest pains are not always a definite sign of alcoholic cardiomyopathy, and your doctor may perform a series of tests to understand your symptoms better and create an accurate diagnosis. After your doctor identifies the source of your chest pain, they will discuss treatment options with you. If your chest pain results from your alcohol consumption, the best thing you can do for your health and safety is to stop drinking.

While stopping drinking may be challenging, especially if you often drink heavily or misuse alcohol, ensuring you do not worsen any existing damage is essential. You may need to change your daily habits to make this more achievable. Avoid places where they sell alcohol and make sure your friends are on board with not drinking while you’re together. Breaking an alcohol addiction requires that you completely avoid it for a while. 

How Can I Prevent Chest Pain From Alcohol?

If your chest hurts after drinking, don't ignore this symptom. You can take action. Here are a few things that can help prevent chest pain from reoccurring.

  • Reduce alcohol intake: The simplest method to stop chest pain after drinking alcohol is to reduce the amount you drink. Most people who experience chest pain from consuming alcohol only do so if they drink more than the recommended level or have a history of alcohol abuse.
  • Follow recommended alcohol intake guidelines: Alcohol offers no dietary benefits, as it's high in calories and contains few nutrients. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans says that drinking less is better for your overall health than drinking more and recommends that men and women drink one to two drinks or less each day.
  • Drink plenty of water: Water should be everyone's go-to beverage. Proper hydration is vital to your health and many bodily functions. Alcohol dehydrates the body, so water is even more important when drinking.
  • Establish a few alcohol-free days: While the healthiest amount of alcohol to consume is none at all, abstaining from alcohol at least three days in a row every week can have health benefits. Yet, it's important to be wise on the days you do drink and practice moderation.
  • Address acid reflux: Individuals with severe acid reflux attacks can treat the pain associated with drinking with over-the-counter medication, but it is also wise to limit alcohol intake as well. 
  • Avoid or quit smoking: There is a correlation between smoking and drinking to excess. So, if you're attempting to limit your alcohol intake, you'll be more likely to succeed if you quit smoking first.
  • Practice heart-healthy habits: Anyone can get heart disease. However, alcohol's impact on this vital organ can put you at higher risk. If you're experiencing chest pain, it's time to implement heart-healthy habits. Maintain a healthy weight. Eat a balanced diet high in vitamins, protein and fiber. Maintain an active lifestyle and exercise regularly.
  • Treat underlying health conditions: If you are diagnosed with an underlying medical issue like high blood pressure or diabetes, be sure to follow your doctor's recommended treatment plan. Effective disease management can lower your risk of adverse side effects like chest pains.
  • Manage stress or anxiety: If you experience chest pain even after drinking a small amount and are prone to anxiety or other panic disorders, it's essential to find ways to manage your mental health. Take time to relax and rest, and seek counseling. It's also wise to stop drinking or begin an alcohol detox until your anxiety improves or you can seek treatment. 
  • Find help to limit or avoid alcohol: If you want to stop drinking or reduce your alcohol intake but you're finding it difficult, you may need professional help. Health care professionals, like your doctor or an alcohol addiction treatment center can offer advice, support and resources that will help you take steps toward an alcohol-free lifestyle.

How Alcohol Addiction Treatment Can Help With Chest Pain

If you have any concerns about your drinking or know you are addicted to alcohol, the best course of action is to get alcohol addiction treatment. Even if your chest pains result from other conditions like high blood pressure, stopping drinking can offer health benefits such as improving your symptoms and allowing you to receive medical care specific to your needs.

At Diamond House Detox, we offer comprehensive medical care to help you treat alcohol addiction and any underlying health conditions or mental health concerns to help you become the best version of yourself. We personalize our comprehensive alcohol rehab treatment plans to your needs. We will take the time to understand you and your symptoms to make an accurate assessment for a treatment plan and strategy for managing withdrawal symptoms. 

Don't let alcohol misuse take priority over your personal health. Treatment and therapy can help. Call Diamond House Detox at (800) 205-6107 or complete our online inquiry form to begin your recovery and health journey today.

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Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner at Diamond House Detox
Vicky is a board certified Family Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. She began her nursing career in healthcare by working in the intensive care unit, and then an inpatient psychiatric hospital. After realizing the mental health needs of both the patients and the families she served, she became a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner. Throughout her experience working with clients, she has developed a passion for those with dual diagnoses and specializes in helping individuals recognize the issues driving their substance use. This recognition has been crucial to the individual’s success in treatment. Vicky opened Diamond House Detox so that she can address these issues early on in a therapeutic environment to allow clients to transition to the next level in their recovery.
Vicky Magobet