Opioids and Alcohol Raise Heart Attack Risk in Young Adults

Alcohol and opioids are both triggers for atrial fibrillation or irregular heartbeat. Young adults are abusing both at increasing rates. A recent study found that irregular heartbeat raises the risk of a heart attack by 63 percent. The likelihood is even higher in women. The Treatment Center helps patients recover from any and all substance addiction whether related to alcohol or prescription drugs.

What is Atrial Fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation, also called AFib is an abnormal heart rate that causes poor blood flow. The heart’s upper chambers beat out of sync with lower chambers.

The two chambers are meant to work together. When they don’t, blood pools in the upper chambers and doesn’t get pumped to the lower ones. The condition may have no symptoms, but when they do appear they include the following:

  • Chest pain
  • Palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness or fatigue
  • Feelings of a fast or abnormal heart beat

Atrial fibrillation can cause a stroke. When blood flow slows in the heart’s upper chambers, a blood clot can travel to the brain causing a stroke. AFib can also cause a heart attack.

A 2013 study revealed that 33.5 million people have AFib. Most of the time, people with AFib are 40 or older. Young people who use opioids and alcohol are experiencing AFib at much younger ages. Opioids and alcohol, used together or separately, weaken the heart and cause a condition that wouldn’t normally occur.

Opioids and Atrial Fibrillation

If you take opioids, you increase your risk of irregular heartbeat. A recent study followed 24,632 participants to track atrial fibrillation and led to the following findings:

  • More than seven percent of those studied reported using opioids like hydrocodone, propoxyphene, and tramadol.
  • Twelve percent of opioid users had atrial fibrillation. Only seven percent of non-users had AFib.
  • Researchers noted that in the past twenty years, both opioid use and atrial fibrillation have increased in the United States. Evidence suggests the two are connected.

Alcohol and Atrial Fibrillation

Binge drinking or heavy drinking damages the heart. Large amounts of alcohol are toxic and weaken heart cells. Over time heart walls become thin, and chambers weaken.

What’s considered too much alcohol? For women, up to one drink per day is considered moderate drinking. For men, it’s two drinks a day. Any level of alcohol use increases the risk of AFib. The more alcohol men and women consumed, the higher their risk of developing an irregular heartbeat.

Adolescents and Young Adults

Abuse of prescription drugs is highest among young adults between 18 and 25. Non-medical use of opioids pain relievers has increased over the past five years. When 12th graders were asked how they got the drugs, they said the drugs were given to them or they bought them from a friend.

Alcohol and opioids can be dangerous enough on their own. Combined, the effects are even more severe. Instead of one substance throwing the heart chambers out of sync, two powerful substances work against normal heart function to cause an irregular heartbeat that can lead to stroke or heart attack.

Prevent Atrial Fibrillation

If you have AFib, there are things you can do to prevent symptoms and keep your heart strong:

  • Don’t smoke.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Avoid caffeine, since it triggers AFib.
  • If you drink, only do it in moderation.
  • See your doctor regularly. Report symptoms right away.
  • Eat healthily. Avoid cholesterol and saturated fats. Instead eat vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.

If you struggle with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, it’s not too late. You can reduce your risk of atrial fibrillation and reverse the progression of heart damage. In many cases when alcohol and substance abuse stops, the heart heals and returns to strong, healthy functioning.

The Treatment Center creates a custom recovery program for each individual. We can help you stop the behavior damaging your body, your relationships, and your future. Don’t become the next statistic. Contact The Treatment Center today.


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