Why Do I Get a Racing Heart When I Drink Alcohol? Here’s What It Could Mean

Why do I get a racing heartbeat when I drink alcohol?
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Warning: This article deals with the topics of substance abuse and alcohol and may be triggering for some readers.

Experiencing a racing heart beat after a big night? It’s may not (just) be “hangxiety.”

There are a number of side effects of drinking alcohol. While a hangover is one of the most common, it also wreaks havoc on one’s liver, nerves and in serious cases, brain. While these side effects aren’t usually experienced after a small amount of alcohol, one side effect many people experience after drinking is a racing heart, which is especially common the morning after a night of drinking.

The explanation for this is fairly simple. Dr Melissa Riddle, a GP at Buraneer Family Practice tells POPSUGAR Australia, “while we drink alcohol to feel relaxed, it stimulates our autonomic nervous system which can cause a variety of problems.”

The autonomic nervous system is in charge of “involuntary” physiological processes, says Dr Riddle. These range from perspiration and muscle movement to sexual function and digestion. An overstimulated autonomic nervous system causes the symptoms we usually associate with a hangover: sweating, stomach issues, tremors, muscle cramping, and a racing heartbeat.

Related: Hangxiety Makes a Bad Hangover Even Worse. Here’s What to Do About It

Alcohol also dilates the blood vessels in the heart. As they relax and expand, the heart needs to work harder to keep the same amount of blood moving through the body – compounding the stress being placed on your heart and of course, increasing your heart rate.

Pretty much anyone can experience the heart-pounding side effects of alcohol, but people assigned female at birth are more likely to experience a racing heartbeat than those assigned male at birth. Dr Riddle tells us “many young people are prone to tachycardias, which is a heart rate over the normal range of 100 beats a minute, but young women are particularly susceptible.” This could be because they have higher heart rates generally, 78 to 82 beats per minute compared to 70 to 72 beats per minute, and metabolise alcohol differently, making them more likely overall to experience negative side effects from drinking.

While there are some biological differences that make us more or less likely to experience a racing heartbeat after drinking, the consensus is the more we drink the more likely we are to experience the negative side effects of alcohol, including a racing heartbeat. And the amount of alcohol it takes to experience short-term, and more serious long-term, side effects of alcohol is often underestimated.

Related: Is It Bad to Drink Alcohol Every Day?

Research from 2016 found that consuming as little as one to three alcoholic drinks per day could increase your risk for atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation is a condition that can cause dangerous blood clots and you don’t need to be a chronic or binge drinker to put yourself at risk of the disease. According to the Cleveland Clinic, researchers found “an increased risk of atrial fibrillation in people who drank one to three glasses of wine and liquor per day.” They also found that the risk of developing atrial fibrillation increased by eight percent with each additional alcoholic drink consumed per day.

Symptoms of atrial fibrillation include lack of energy, dizziness, shortness of breath, chest pain and heart palpitations.

If you wake up with a racing heart (and a hangover), after a night of heavy drinking, it’s most likely that this will subside as the hangover does. If you’re also experiencing shortness of breath, chest pain or fainting, it’s recommended that you seek emergency medical attention. If you regularly experience a racing heart after drinking but it eventually goes away, be sure to make an appointment with your doctor to discuss it.

Additional reporting by Ruby Feneley.

If this article brings up any issues for you or anyone you know, or if drugs or alcohol are becoming a problem, please contact Lifeline (13 11 14) or download Sobriety App – I am Sober, an addiction buddy useful for quitting any activity or substance.

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