Can Heavy Drinking Increase Risk of A-Fib?

Irregular Heart Beat & Alcohol Consumption

Many researchers agree that heavy alcohol consumption and binge drinking increase the risk of atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat that is a risk factor for stroke. But scientists have not established the effect of moderate drinking on this type of cardiac arrhythmia.

Group clinking mugs of beer together over a wooden table
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An analysis of the current research compared the findings of studies examining the effects of alcohol consumption and the risks of developing atrial fibrillation. The authors concluded that there is a relationship between alcohol consumption and atrial fibrillation, but that the link isn't straightforward.

What Is Atrial Fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation is the most common cardiac arrhythmia found in an estimated 2.2 million Americans. When atrial fibrillation occurs, the heart's two upper chambers, known as the atria, begin to quiver instead of beating normally. As a result, blood is not pumped completely out of the atria into the ventricles, the two large chambers of the heart.

Is Atrial Fibrillation Life-Threatening?

Generally, atrial fibrillation itself is not considered life-threatening, but if left untreated, can result in serious or potentially life-threatening complications, including palpitations, chest pain, fainting, or congestive heart failure. The greatest risk, however, is stroke. People with atrial fibrillation have up to seven times greater risk of having a stroke.

How atrial Fibrillation Can Lead to a Stroke

With atrial fibrillation, the blood is not being pumped properly, so it can pool in the atria and begin to clot. If a piece of the clot then travels to the brain, it can cause a stroke. An estimated 15 percent of all strokes occur in people with atrial fibrillation.

Heavy drinking or binge drinking has long been known to cause episodes of atrial fibrillation, as well as other arrhythmias. It has been called the "Holiday Heart Syndrome" because it can occur around the holidays when people who do not usually drink may overindulge.

Binge Drinking and Atrial Fibrillation

For more than 30 years, research has linked heavy and binge drinking to an increased risk of atrial fibrillation, among other health risks. One of the largest studies, the Danish Diet, Cancer, and Health Study of 22,528 men and 25,421 women over a six-year period, showed an even higher risk for men.

Atrial Fibrillation More Risky for Men

Of the participants in the Danish study, 556 developed atrial fibrillation, including 374 men (1.7 percent) and 182 women (0.7 percent). There was a modest increase in the risk of atrial fibrillation that corresponded with increasing alcohol consumption in men, but not among women.

Men in the study who drank the most amount of alcohol daily (68.7 grams per day) had risks of developing atrial fibrillation up to 46 percent higher than men who drank the least amount of alcohol. Women who drank the heaviest amounts of alcohol (38.8 grams per day) were 14 percent more likely to develop atrial fibrillation.

How About Light to Moderate Drinking?

What the researchers haven't established is the relationship between light or moderate drinking and the risk of atrial fibrillation. Although there are some studies that have shown a link between the risk and drinking even two standard drinks, most researchers have found no increased risk for those who drink within the recommended guidelines for moderate alcohol consumption.​

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Giannopoulos G, Anagnostopoulos I, Kousta M, Vergopoulos S, Deftereos S, Vassilikos V. Alcohol consumption and the risk of incident atrial fibrillation: A meta-analysis. Diagnostics (Basel). 2022 Feb 13;12(2):479. doi:10.3390/diagnostics12020479

  2. Frost L, Vestergaard P. Alcohol and risk of atrial fibrillation or flutter: a cohort study. Arch Intern Med. 2004 Oct 11;164(18):1993-8. doi:10.1001/archinte.164.18.1993

Additional Reading
  • American Heart Association. Atrial Fibrillation. March 2011.

  • Kodama, S. et. al. "Alcohol Consumption and Risk of Atrial Fibrillation." Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Jan. 2011

  • National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. "What Is Atrial Fibrillation?" October 2009.

By Buddy T
Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism.