Alcohol has been an integral part of human culture since time immemorial, spanning across all cultures and societies. Over time, it has achieved unprecedented commercial success, viability and acceptance and has become the most popular substance of abuse in the majority of countries. Besides other lifestyle factors, the risk of developing cardiovascular problems increases due to alcohol abuse.
In the United States, it is the most commonly consumed substance, with 86.4 percent of individuals in the age group of 18 and above reporting consuming alcohol at some point in their lives according to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).
According to the International Classification of Diseases (ICD)-10 by the World Health Organization (WHO), 25 chronic disease and conditions rise due to the regular and frequent alcohol use. In addition, alcohol use can also trigger certain types of cancers, psychiatric conditions, etc. Moreover, alcohol is the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the U.S.
Relative and absolute risks of alcohol consumption
A study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, suggests that alcohol abuse increases the risk of developing heart complications and cardiovascular diseases like other risk factors, such as hypertension and obesity. The study led by Gregory Marcus, M.D., University of California, San Francisco analyzed ambulatory surgery, emergency care or inpatient medical care in California between 2005 and 2009.
It entailed 14,727,591 patients in the age group of 21 years and above whose data was assessed for alcohol abuse, cardiovascular problems and other health data as per the ICD-9 and Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) codes for each patient. Some of the eye-opening findings are as follows:
- 268,084 patients (1.8 percent) met the criterion for alcohol abuse.
- Patients diagnosed with alcohol abuse were linked to a 2.14 times increased risk of atrial fibrillation and a 2.34-fold increased risk of congestive heart failure.
The researchers concluded that the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases due to alcohol abuse was of at least a similar magnitude as in the case of the well-established risk factors for each disease. According to the researchers, “Although nearly all subgroups exhibited increased risk in the setting of alcohol abuse, those without a given risk factor for each outcome were disproportionately prone to enhance cardiovascular risk.”
They found that although the risk of heart diseases in those diagnosed with alcohol abuse was significantly higher, the absolute risk for developing heart diseases was still considered low. Furthermore, in an accompanying editorial piece, Michael Criqui, M.D., M.P.H, and Isac Thomas M.D., University of California, San Diego, suggest that studies that advocate the health benefits of moderate drinking may not be as accurate due to the following factors:
- External factors, such as lifestyle, behavior, exercise, pattern of eating, etc., are usually not accurately gauged.
- These studies may prioritize health conscious participants over heavy drinkers.
Lastly, Criqui and Thomas lauded the study as it depicts a more realistic picture of health complications associated with alcohol use.
Include treatment and exclude drinking
Overall, no amount of alcohol consumption can be considered safe. Health complications and conditions that arise due to drinking result in billions of dollar as economic burden, thousands of untimely death each year, and dangerous consequences that can disrupt the lives of children and other family members.