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Alcoholic drinks, such as beer, spirits and wine, contain the depressant drug ethyl alcohol (ethanol). Depressants inhibit many of the brain’s functions, such as slowing down its control of the body, with even just small amounts affecting important functions like speech and movement. They also affect almost all of the body’s systems, including the cardiovascular system.

Alcohol and cardiovascular disease

At the time of drinking, alcohol is absorbed into the bloodstream and then carried throughout the body, with a temporary increase in heart rate and blood pressure.

Regular excessive drinking has a clear link to ongoing high blood pressure. Over time, high blood pressure puts strain on the heart muscle and can lead to cardiovascular disease, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Excessive drinking over the long-term can also lead to narrowed arteries through atherosclerosis, weakened heart muscle and atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat), all of which also increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.

How much can I drink?

Factors such as age, mental health, existing medical conditions and drug use can affect the impact of alcohol on an individual.

To reduce the risk of alcohol-related disease or injury, current NZ guidelines advise no more than:

  • two standard drinks a day for women and no more than 10 standard drinks a week
  • three standard drinks a day for men and no more than 15 standard drinks a week.

For those under 18, pregnant or breastfeeding, no alcohol should be consumed.

Always speak to your doctor if you have health concerns about alcohol.

What is HRI doing?

The Atherosclerosis and Vascular Remodelling Group is researching the cellular and molecular mechanisms behind atherosclerosis to help prevent and treat cardiovascular disease. By preventing and even reversing vascular disease, this research will help prevent heart attack and stroke.

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