chest pain from alcohol withdrawal

Consuming a lot of alcohol can be harmful to the heart. Sometimes cardiac symptoms can be a side effect of drinking. However, it’s also important to know that people can experience heart problems or chest pain during alcohol withdrawal. This risk may be a problem for people who are trying to recover from alcohol use disorder.

Quitting drinking ultimately leads to better health, but alcohol withdrawal and chest pain symptoms can be difficult for a person to go through on their own. If someone is experiencing alcohol withdrawal and chest pain, it is a good idea to go through withdrawal at a medical detox facility where doctors can monitor symptoms and provide treatment if side effects become dangerous.

Can Alcohol Withdrawal Cause Chest Pain?

People may wonder if alcohol withdrawal can cause chest pain. The heart is one of the primary areas of the body that is damaged by alcohol. This damage builds up over time and it can take a while to heal after a person stops drinking. Heavy drinkers should know that they might experience chest pain from not drinking alcohol. This discomfort is often a sign of an underlying heart problem. Experiencing chest pains during withdrawal can ultimately lead to a heart attack, stroke or death. Medical professionals can help treat and prevent serious side effects. 

Why Does Chest Pain Occur During Alcohol Withdrawal?

Chronic drinkers build up physical tolerance to alcohol. Their bodies become used to having alcohol in their system and adjust accordingly. For example, drinking causes high levels of a chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. This chemical makes people more relaxed and causes different processes in the body to happen more slowly. When someone drinks regularly, their brain gets used to having a lot of this chemical around. When they stop drinking, there is a sudden drop in GABA, which can trigger withdrawal symptoms because processes in the body and the brain become overactive.

One alcohol withdrawal symptom is chest pain. Others may include depression, anxiety, fatigue, shakiness, mood swings, confusion and seizures. When a person goes through cycles of giving up drinking and then relapsing, they are more likely to experience these symptoms after drinking only a small amount of alcohol. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms are potentially dangerous and can cause long-term damage and even death.

A person’s greatest chance at safely detoxing and avoiding relapse is receiving treatment from a rehab center during the withdrawal process. Doctors can prevent and treat chest pain from alcohol withdrawal. Trying to quit alcohol cold turkey can cause a person’s brain chemistry to change too quickly. Treatment programs can help people taper off of alcohol, so that changes happen more slowly and detox is less intense. This can help people avoid alcohol withdrawal and chest pain

Rapid Heartbeat

A rapid, pounding heartbeat often occurs in people who are quitting drinking and is one of the causes of alcohol withdrawal chest pain. This happens when someone’s heart starts beating much faster or harder than usual.

A racing heart during alcohol withdrawal may feel like:

  • Chest tightness or discomfort
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Heart palpitations/pounding
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Passing out

It is important for people who experience chest tightness during alcohol withdrawal to get medical help because this is a common symptom of a heart attack.

Irregular Heart Rhythm

Studies have shown that drinking can cause irregular heartbeats, also known as arrhythmias. The more alcohol a person drinks in one sitting, the more likely they are to have this side effect. People who are chronic drinkers are also more likely to experience arrhythmias.

Uneven heartbeats are also associated with alcohol withdrawal chest pain. Once someone has stopped drinking, they may feel like their heart is beating too fast or too slow. One possible cause for an irregular heartbeat during alcohol withdrawal is that someone’s electrolyte levels can drop too low. Electrolytes are important for regulating heart rate, and dehydration caused by withdrawal usually causes lowered electrolyte levels in the bloodstream. When people go through medical detox, doctors typically monitor people’s alcohol withdrawal heart rate to check for arrhythmias.

Artery Spasms

People who drink are also more likely to have artery spasms, a condition where one of the blood vessels leading to the heart suddenly narrows. The good news is that this risk is decreased once someone stops drinking and moves past the withdrawal phase. Artery spasms are a common cause of alcohol withdrawal heart pain. Signs of an artery spasm are extreme crushing or squeezing pain in the chest and sometimes spreading to the neck, shoulder or arm. Because this condition often leads to heart attack, doctors will often give people medications like nitroglycerin or calcium channel blockers to help with pain and keep the heart muscle operating normally.

Can Alcohol Withdrawal Cause a Heart Attack?

Chest pains can always indicate that something more serious is going on with someone’s heart. Heavy drinkers who are trying to cut back should take cardiac symptoms seriously and know that alcohol withdrawal can cause a heart attack. One of the main reasons alcohol withdrawal and death are linked is because of heart problems. Irregular heartbeats are the most likely cause of sudden death in middle-aged men who drink, and binge drinking or regular heavy drinking is responsible for 10% of deaths for people ages 20 to 64 years.

Chronic drinkers who want to cut back on or quit using alcohol should talk to their doctor first to see if they are at risk of alcohol withdrawal heart failure. If someone tries to stop drinking and starts noticing severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal like seizure, fever or irregular heartbeats, they should go to the emergency room or call 9-1-1.

Alcohol Withdrawal Treatment

People with alcohol use syndrome may experience minor or extreme symptoms when they try to stop drinking — the withdrawal process is different for everyone. It’s always safer to go through medical detox in case side effects come on very suddenly. When medical professionals provide alcohol withdrawal treatment, they can prescribe medications to ease pain or make a person more comfortable. For example, they may prescribe benzodiazepine to improve symptoms like shaking. Doctors can also keep an eye on someone’s heart rate and blood pressure and intervene if there are problems. They can also provide life-saving care if someone has a heart attack or stroke.

If you are trying to cut back on drinking, know that medical professionals can help you take this healthy step in a safe way. If you are experiencing chest pain after quitting drinking, this can be a sign that you are going through potentially dangerous side effects from alcohol withdrawal. Places like Orlando Recovery Center offer evidence-based, effective alcohol withdrawal syndrome treatments starting with helping people detox from alcohol safely. Give us a call today to learn more about how we can assist in your recovery.


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Medical Disclaimer: Orlando Recovery Center aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.