BACKGROUND Recent evidence from Eastern Europe of a positive association between alcohol and cardiovascular disease has challenged the prevailing view that drinking is cardioprotective. Consuming amounts of alcohol comparable to those consumed in France has been linked to detrimental cardiovascular effects. One possibility is that this could be related to the particular consequences of binge drinking, which is common in Russia.
METHODS A systematic review of literature on the relation between cardiovascular disease and heavy drinking and irregular (binge) drinking.
RESULTS Most existing reviews of the relation between alcohol and cardiovascular disease have examined the amount drunk per week or month and have not looked at the pattern of drinking. These have consistently shown that alcohol has a cardioprotective effect, even at high levels of consumption. In contrast, studies that have looked at pattern of drinking, either directly, or indirectly, using indicators such as frequency of hangovers or reports of the consequences of drunkenness, have consistently found an invcreased risk of cardiovascular death, particularly sudden death. A separate review of the physiological basis for a difference between regular heavy drinking and heavy binge drinking demonstrates that the two types of drinking have quite different effects.
CONCLUSION An association between binge drinking and cardiovascular death meets the standard criteria for causality. It is important that future studies of alcohol related harm examine the pattern of drinking as well as the amount drunk.