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Research Summary

Does Heavy Alcohol Intake Increase the Risk for Cardiovascular and Cerebrovascular Disease?

To assess the effect of heavy alcohol intake on cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease, researchers analyzed data from 13,814 men and 3563 women presenting to 5 outpatient alcohol treatment clinics in Copenhagen between 1954 and 1992. Ninety percent of subjects fulfilled ICD-10 criteria for alcohol dependence. Demographic data, average drinks per day (22 for men and 16 for women), and duration of heavy alcohol use (14 years for men and 9 years for women) were recorded at the time of clinic registration. Danish national databases were used to identify death or hospitalization from cardiovascular or cerebrovascular disease from 1977 through 2001. Age-, sex-, and time-adjusted standardized incidence ratios (SIRs) were calculated as the ratio of observed to expected events.


  • The incidence of ischemic heart disease death or hospitalization was increased for men (SIR, 1.76) and women (SIR, 2.44) with heavy alcohol intake.
  • The incidence of cerebrovascular disease death or hospitalization was also increased in men (SIR, 2.30) and women (SIR, 3.09) with heavy alcohol intake.
  • Rates for ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke were similarly elevated.



This long-term study shows a higher than expected incidence of cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease events among heavy (largely dependent) alcohol users. However, the independent effect of heavy alcohol intake on the outcomes is not known because researchers were not able to control for important cardiovascular risk factors such as smoking, hypertension, diabetes, and lipid profile.

Kevin L. Kraemer, MD, MSc



Hvidtfeldt UA, Frederiksen ME, Thygesen LC, et al. Incidence of cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease in Danish men and women with a prolonged heavy alcohol intake. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2008;32(11);1920–1924.