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Alcohol and Health

How To Slow Heart Rate After Drinking Alcohol: Hydration, Deep Breathing, and Other Strategies

June 6, 2023
9 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
June 6, 2023
9 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
June 6, 2023
9 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
June 6, 2023
9 min read
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Reframe Content Team
June 6, 2023
9 min read
A senior man with chest discomfort

You come home from a night out with friends and plan to head straight to bed. As you sit down to remove your shoes something feels… off. You notice your heart is racing, pounding away as if you’ve just run a half marathon. Does alcohol increase heart rate?

What exactly is happening here? What leads to these heart palpitations after drinking? And more importantly, how can you slow your heart rate after drinking alcohol?

How Alcohol Increases Heart Rate

Before we dive into the coping mechanisms, let's explore why alcohol can cause our heart rate to go into overdrive in the first place.

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, which means it slows brain activity, so does alcohol slow heart rate as well? No! Rather, alcohol has a stimulant effect on the heart, leading to an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. There are a few reasons for this:

  1. Sympathetic stimulation. Alcohol consumption triggers the release of stress hormones such as adrenaline, which activates the sympathetic nervous system. This system is responsible for the "fight or flight" response, which increases heart rate, blood pressure, and overall alertness.
  2. Vasodilation. Alcohol acts as a vasodilator, widening the blood vessels and allowing more blood to flow through. This initially gives us a warm sensation, but it also results in a drop in blood pressure. In response, our heart compensates by beating faster to maintain adequate blood circulation.
  3. Dehydration. Alcohol has diuretic properties, so it increases urine production, leading to dehydration. Dehydration causes the blood to become thicker, which puts additional strain on the heart, leading to an increased heart rate.
  4. Disrupted heart rhythm. Excessive alcohol consumption disrupts the electrical signals that regulate the heart's rhythm. This can result in irregular heartbeats, such as atrial fibrillation, which happens when the heart beats irregularly and often faster than normal.

It's important to note that individual responses to alcohol can vary, and factors such as the type and amount of alcohol consumed, body weight, tolerance, and overall health can influence the extent of the heart rate increase.

How Alcohol Increases Heart Rate

Should I Give Up Alcohol If I Have a Heart Condition?

What does having a heart condition mean for our alcohol intake? Should we give it up completely? It depends. While quitting is the safest option, everyone is different, so always consult with your doctor to get the best advice for your situation.

Alcohol Interaction With Heart Medications

If we do choose to drink while taking heart medication, what types of interactions might we expect? Here’s the gist:

  • Increased side effects. Mixing booze with our heart meds can increase the side effects, especially ones such as dizziness, nausea, and drowsiness.
  • Risk of complications. Certain heart medications combined with alcohol can increase the risk of complications like internal bleeding, heart rhythm problems, and could potentially worsen heart conditions.
  • Decrease in medication effects. Alcohol can affect how well our meds work, making it harder to control conditions such as high blood pressure or arrhythmias.
  • Potential blood pressure fluctuations. Alcohol consumption can affect our blood pressure. If we’re taking medication to manage our blood pressure, mixing with alcohol can be counterproductive.
  • Liver strain. Alcohol is processed in the liver, as are many heart medications (and most medication, for that matter). Combining alcohol and medication can lead to extra stress, leading to liver damage or worsening existing liver conditions.

It’s important to talk to your doctor about how your medication fits into your lifestyle. Never start or stop a medication without talking to your doctor, and always be honest about your drinking habits. Stay safe!

How To Slow Heart Rate After Drinking Alcohol

Heart palpitations after drinking can certainly be bothersome. It’s equally frustrating when we wake up with our heart racing. Thankfully, there are several natural ways to slow our heart rate after drinking alcohol. Let’s explore a few of them.

Slowing Heart Rate With Hydration

Alcohol’s diuretic properties can leave us parched, not only resulting in a faster heart rate, but also potentially affecting our kidneys.

Several research studies have found that people who consumed water alongside their alcoholic beverages experienced a lower increase in heart rate compared to the group that didn't consume water. This suggests that staying hydrated while drinking alcohol mitigates the heart rate increase commonly associated with alcohol consumption.

Why does this work? Water acts as a diluent, which means it can dilute the concentration of alcohol in our bloodstream. When our blood alcohol concentration is lower, its stimulant effect on the heart diminishes, resulting in a less pronounced increase in heart rate.

To keep your heart rate in check, sip on water throughout the night. Aim to drink a glass of water for every alcoholic beverage consumed.

Slowing Heart Rate Through Breathing

Scientists have also found that engaging in slow, deep breaths activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for promoting relaxation and lowering heart rate.

The parasympathetic nervous system is often referred to as the "rest and digest" system, counteracting the "fight or flight" response of the sympathetic nervous system. Slow, deep breaths stimulate the vagus nerve — a major component of the parasympathetic nervous system — decreasing heart rate and promoting a sense of calm.

Consciously taking slow breaths activates our body’s relaxation response, which counters alcohol’s stimulant effect on the heart rate. This rhythmic breathing pattern helps regulate our heart rate and induce a state of relaxation.

To practice, take a moment to inhale deeply through your nose, hold your breath for a few seconds, and then exhale slowly through your mouth. Repeat this process for a few minutes, focusing on the rhythm of your breath.

Slowing Heart Rate With Light Exercise

Evidence suggests that going for a gentle stroll or doing some light stretching relaxes our body and reduces our heart rate. Exercise releases endorphins, which promote a sense of calm and well-being. Furthermore, when we are in this calm state, the parasympathetic nervous system takes over, naturally bringing our heart rate down.

Just remember, vigorous physical activity might not be the best idea when we’ve had a few drinks, as it can put additional strain on our heart. Avoid running, jumping jacks, or any other exercise that increases heart rate.

Slowing Heart Rate With Mindfulness

Engaging in mindfulness or meditation techniques has been proven to slow our heart rate and promote relaxation. These activities bring us back to the present moment, allowing us to ground in with our body. When we induce a state of inner peace, we slow our heart rate by taking our body out of the “fight or flight” response.

Find a quiet space, sit comfortably, and focus on your breath or repeat a calming mantra. Allow yourself to let go of stress and tension.

Alcohol and Heart Rate: The Takeaways

We all love a good time, but it's essential to take care of our body, especially our heart. Slowing your heart rate after a night of indulgence is perfectly possible! By staying hydrated, practicing deep breathing exercises, engaging in light exercise, meditating, and using cooling techniques, you can help your heart find its rhythm again. Now you know how to slow your heart rate after drinking alcohol!

Slow Your Heart Rate After Drinking Alcohol With Reframe!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today! 

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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