Habitual light to moderate alcohol intake (up to 1 drink per day for women and 1 or 2 drinks per day for men) is associated with decreased risks for total mortality, coronary artery disease, diabetes mellitus, congestive heart failure, and stroke. However, higher levels of alcohol consumption are associated with increased cardiovascular risk. Indeed, behind only smoking and obesity, excessive alcohol consumption is the third leading cause of premature death in the United States. Heavy alcohol use (1) is one of the most common causes of reversible hypertension, (2) accounts for about one-third of all cases of nonischemic dilated cardiomyopathy, (3) is a frequent cause of atrial fibrillation, and (4) markedly increases risks of stroke-both ischemic and hemorrhagic. The risk-to-benefit ratio of drinking appears higher in younger individuals, who also have higher rates of excessive or binge drinking and more frequently have adverse consequences of acute intoxication (for example, accidents, violence, and social strife). In fact, among males aged 15 to 59 years, alcohol abuse is the leading risk factor for premature death. Of the various drinking patterns, daily low- to moderate-dose alcohol intake, ideally red wine before or during the evening meal, is associated with the strongest reduction in adverse cardiovascular outcomes. Health care professionals should not recommend alcohol to nondrinkers because of the paucity of randomized outcome data and the potential for problem drinking even among individuals at apparently low risk. The findings in this review were based on a literature search of PubMed for the 15-year period 1997 through 2012 using the search terms alcohol, ethanol, cardiovascular disease, coronary artery disease, heart failure, hypertension, stroke, and mortality. Studies were considered if they were deemed to be of high quality, objective, and methodologically sound.
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