Alcohol has been used as an all-purpose remedy, helpful in times of injured faith and wounded feelings. But in some cases, using alcohol for medicinal purposes can lead to further damage. Drinking alcohol, a review of past research indicates, is associated with an immediate higher risk of stroke or heart attack.

Oddly, though, the relationship between drinking and cardiovascular health doesn’t end there. One day later, risk of stroke and heart attack dissipates only to be replaced by the benefits of heart protection, though this is awarded only to moderate drinkers.

Every 43 seconds or so, someone in the United States has a heart attack, says the American Heart Association (AHA). Heart attack, known to doctors as "myocardial infarction," occurs when the blood flow to the heart muscle is blocked or severely reduced. Without oxygen arriving with blood, the muscle cannot do its job. Most heart attacks start slowly, beginning with mild discomfort, and then build and grow more painful. Most people, explains the AHA, will survive.

In a 2015 study, Dr. Elizabeth Mostofsky, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and her colleagues examined the short-term effects of alcohol and discovered that drinking was linked to a higher risk of heart attack in the subsequent hour among people who do not typically imbibe. Bingers — women who drink more than 4 alcoholic beverages in 2 hours and men who drink more than 5 — were 72 percent more likely than others to have heart failure, said the researchers. They also discovered that drinking gin, vodka, and whiskey posed the greatest risk, drinking beer and wine less so.

As a follow up to this study, Mostofsky and her colleagues recently synthesized all available information to gain new knowledge about alcohol’s relationship to heart risks. They analyzed evidence from 23 total research papers which included data from nearly 30,000 participants.

Their results amount to a somewhat contradictory message about the effects of drinking.

Risks and Benefits

Within one to three hours, a single drink will increase heart rate and disrupt its pacing, but by 24 hours, moderate drinking (six or less drinks in a week) improves both blood flow and the function of blood vessels’ lining, while also reducing clotting. All told, then, moderate drinking related to an immediately higher risk of a cardiovascular event; one day later, it related to lower risk of heart attack or stroke from bleeds, and within a week, lower risk of strokes from clots.

On the other hand, heavy drinking — 15 or more drinks per week for men and 8 or more for women — was associated with higher risks for heart attack and stroke at all times.

For those who drink, the American Heart Association recommends moderation.

Source: Mostofsky E, Chalal HS, Mukamal KJ, et al. Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Acute Effects of Alcohol Consumption on Risk of Cardiovascular Events. American Heart Association's Epidemiology and Prevention/Lifestyle 2016 Scientific Sessions. 2016.