Written by: Lee Spinks
Medically Reviewed by: Dr Mateen Durrani – MBBS, DPM, MSc, BCPsych
Last Updated: January 30th, 2023
Chest pains and shortness of breath after drinking alcohol can be caused by a variety of factors.
This chest pain can be very scary and often causes people to think they are having a heart attack or other medical emergency. While this is usually not the case, chest pain after drinking alcohol can still be a sign of something serious so it is important to understand the facts.
In this help guide, we will be exploring the causes of experiencing chest pain after drinking alcohol, what can be done so you stop experiencing those pains, and much more.
What causes chest pain after drinking alcohol?
While there are a number of potential causes for chest pain after drinking alcohol, the most common include the following:
When you drink alcohol, it can relax the lower oesophagal sphincter, allowing stomach acid to reflux up your throat. This causes a burning sensation and chest pain after drinking alcohol that radiates from the stomach area to the chest and shoulders.
People who drink every day due to alcohol addiction are more prone to this type of chest pain.
High blood pressure
Prolonged excess alcohol consumption, such as with alcohol addiction, can greatly increase blood pressure which in turn can lead to tightness of the chest or chest pain immediately after drinking alcohol or even hours later.
When drinking, your heart may beat faster than usual or in an irregular pattern. This can cause chest pain due to the strain on your heart muscles. Other symptoms of arrhythmia include dizziness, lightheadedness and a racing pulse.
Stress and anxiety
Some people drink heavily to soothe or numb feelings of stress and anxiety. However, stress and addiction and anxiety and addiction are intrinsically linked as this heavy drinking leads to dependence.
Ultimately, the symptoms of stress and anxiety are exacerbated by addiction including chest pain which is a symptom of both. Hangovers and blackouts can also make feelings of stress and anxiety worse leading to chest pain the day after drinking alcohol.
Intense anxiety, potentially brought on by the initial chest pain can lead to panic attacks where the person believes they are having a heart attack. Symptoms of a panic attack include chest pain, rapid heart rate and difficulty breathing.
Stress on organs
When you drink heavily, your organs are also affected, particularly the liver and kidneys which become strained and weakened over time due to alcohol toxicity. This in turn can manifest as chest pains immediately after drinking or the next day.
What underlying issues can chest pain after drinking indicate?
Chest pain when drinking can occasionally be a sign of a serious underlying health condition that is both triggered and/or caused by drinking alcohol. These include:
Angina is chest pain or discomfort caused by reduced blood flow to the heart. It can cause a squeezing or tightness in the chest which is often intensified when exercising or drinking alcohol.
Cardiomyopathy is an abnormal enlargement of the heart that can cause chest pain and shortness of breath after drinking alcohol. It is usually caused by prolonged excess alcohol consumption and is often a sign of an advanced stage of alcohol addiction.
Excess alcohol consumption can result in inflammation of the pancreas which can cause severe pain that starts in the abdomen and radiates to the chest. Other common symptoms of pancreatitis include nausea, vomiting, fever, a sore abdomen and jaundice.
Can chest pain after drinking alcohol be caused by a heart attack?
It is very rare that chest pains and shortness of breath after drinking alcohol are due to a heart attack; but it is possible. This is why it is always worth knowing the signs to look out for, particularly if you are a heavy drinker, have underlying health conditions or are addicted to alcohol. Signs of a heart attack include:
- Chest pain or tightness
- Feeling light-headed or dizzy
- Sweating and clamminess
- Nausea and vomiting
- Pain radiating down one arm or both arms
- Shortness of breath
If you experience any of these symptoms after drinking alcohol, or at any other time, it is important to seek medical help immediately.
How to get rid of chest pain after drinking alcohol
There are three main ways to prevent chest pain after drinking alcohol:
1. Stop drinking
This may sound obvious but if you are experiencing chest pain after drinking alcohol, it is advisable to stop, see if the pain subsides, and if it doesn’t, seek medical help. If you think your chest pain may be due to an underlying health issue that is worsened by drinking alcohol, then it’s important to stop drinking altogether to give your body a chance to heal.
2. Speak to your doctor
Persistent chest pain after drinking could be due to an underlying medical condition that needs medical attention. It is important to speak with your doctor about any chest pain you are experiencing, even if it’s mild and only occurs after drinking alcohol.
3. Seek help for alcohol addiction
If heavy drinking is the cause of your chest pain then it is essential to seek help for your alcohol addiction in order to reduce the risk of further health complications. Primrose Lodge provides alcohol detox, alcohol rehab and aftercare programmes to help you stop drinking, break your physical dependence on alcohol and address the mental and emotional aspects of alcoholism.
How alcohol addiction treatment can help with chest pain
When you choose to go through rehab treatment, your body will start to heal as soon as you stop drinking.
Physical causes of drink-related chest pain such as acid reflux, high blood pressure and stress on organs can be improved over time through abstinence from alcohol. Additionally, while in treatment you will receive medical care specific to these conditions if necessary.
Primrose Lodge’s rehab treatment is also designed to help you tackle any underlying issues that relate to the cause of your chest pains such as anxiety or stress, which can be resolved through therapeutic approaches.
By addressing both the physical and psychological aspects of alcohol addiction, Primrose Lodge can provide you with the best treatment to help your body heal and reduce chest pain after drinking alcohol.
What to do next
If you are suffering from chest pains after drinking or exhibit any other signs of alcohol addiction then contact Primrose Lodge today. We can help get started on your road to alcohol recovery which will have major benefits for every aspect of your physical, mental and emotional health.