A lot happens to you when you’re drunk. For some folks, one symptom is excited-toddler-level hiccuping fits.
Let’s be real: Hiccups aren’t the worst thing that can happen to you because of drinking. When you consider that getting too drunk can result in literal death, hiccups don’t rank that highly on the list of booze-linked health concerns.
We’re going to look into why knocking back the booze can bring on a hiccuping fit, and if drunk hiccups present any serious health risks.
Are hiccups more dangerous than some other health risks that come with drinking too much booze?
Are drunk hiccups completely harmless?
Hiccups can bring up the taste of vomit. When you’re really drunk, this can be enough to make you hurl. If you’re blackout drunk, you may then choke on your puke. That’s no way to end a night out.
The risk comes more from being blackout drunk than the hiccups themselves.
But chronic hiccups can be a symptom of more serious health conditions. If they last longer than 48 hours, call a doctor.
They can be irritating either way. They also may not be as harmless as they initially seem.
Researchers have absolutely no idea. You might be better off asking behind the bar.
A hiccup is an involuntary contraction or spasm of your diaphragm. Your diaphragm is your muscle that pumps your lungs so you can breathe. And hiccups can happen to anyone — babies even hiccup in the womb.
The scientists have unlocked many of the secrets and mysteries of the universe — from the Big Bang to splitting the atom to curing polio. But for some reason, they still don’t know why we get hiccups.
What they have managed to figure out is that certain foods, drinks, and stimuli are likely triggers. Alcohol is definitely one of these triggers. They haven’t had to do many studies to prove this. People throughout history who drink have proved it for them.
Drinking while partying can distend your stomach
There are a couple of theories about why alcohol in particular is a trigger. Carbonated drinks (like beer) distend your stomach, which makes hiccups more likely. A distended stomach puts pressure on your diaphragm. This may lead to hiccups.
It may also be because of how we drink booze. Often, when we’re drinking, we’re chatting, dancing, and (if we’re lucky) doing some tongue-waggling with a sexy stranger (just pleasant conversation, get your mind out of the gutter).
(That was pre-2020. Now we’re just enjoying a tipple with Aunt Marge over Zoom.)
Glugging our way through these activities can lead to a lot of swallowed air. This can also distend your stomach.
Alcohol irritates your digestive system
Alcohol is a proven gut irritant. As much as your brain likes getting smashed occasionally, your guts very much do not.
While there’s not much direct research on the topic, an old 1984 research review suggested that alcohol and your guts generally don’t mix well. Even though the research isn’t recent, alcohol hasn’t got any better for your digestive system over time.
Research shows that alcohol is a key factor in gastrointestinal cancers and other digestive conditions. This may have nothing to do with hiccups. But it does at least show that drinking makes unwanted stuff happen in your belly regions.
Rising gas from an angry stomach could cause hiccups. But there currently isn’t any research to prove this conclusively.
Nobody knows. Science still isn’t even really clear on what causes nondrunk hiccups.
It’s likely that there’s probably no single way that alcohol causes hiccups. If they happen due to the gas from beer, you may be doomed to *hic* from the moment it hits your stomach.
If your hiccups are the result of a GI reaction, they could come after the sesh, when the booze has had time to settle in and react with your gut juice. “A gut juice cocktail, please. Shaken, not stirred…”
Your level of inebriation may have no bearing on if (or when) you get hiccups. But there’s just as much a chance that alcohol could trigger a neurological reaction in your brain that results in hiccups.
There’s just not enough research out there yet to draw conclusions (and many of the studies are mighty old).
People have reported getting hiccups when drunk on everything from martinis to moonshine. But certain types of booze are notorious hiccup generators.
If you’re dead set on avoiding drunk hiccups, stay away from these drinks:
- Beer. Beer is the worst for hiccups. We wish there was literally any research we could show you to prove this. But it’s fairly common knowledge that beer and hiccups are frequent drinking buddies.
- Carbonated/fizzy beverages. The gas in carbonated drinks give you hiccups, probably because the fizzy gas distends your stomach. Stick to soft, noncarbonated drinks if you’re hell-bent on not hiccuping.
Hiccups can be persistent little sh*ts. But usually, they go away on their own after a few minutes. If you find yours aren’t going away, there are a few biology hacks you can employ to stop them.
- Just as Mary Poppins prescribes, take a spoonful of sugar. This stimulates the back of your throat.
- Sip or gargle iced water.
- Interrupt your breathing cycle by holding your breath for a few seconds.
- Try doing the Valsalva maneuver — exhale with your mouth closed at the same time as pinching your nose.
- Rub the back of your neck (or get someone else to… in a noncreepy way).
- Find yourself a paper bag and breathe into it.
- Pull your knees up to your chest and then lean forward. Or bend forward in a way that puts pressure on your diaphragm.
- Bite on a slice of lemon.
- Get your freak on, alone or with a friend. We’re not even kidding. A 2000 case report suggested that intercourse and orgasms could actually be a viable hiccup cure. (Seriously? Researchers have worked this out but still don’t know what causes them?)
Not all of these will work for everyone every time. Getting rid of hiccups can be a pain in the ass. Every Saturday morning cartoon has aired at least one episode’s worth of content from this fact.
As a disclaimer, hiccups are a bit like your ex — you’ll bump into them when you’re drunk sooner or later. But a few measures can reduce your risk of alcohol hiccups (we can’t help you with the ex situation, though — sorry).
- Avoid beer and other carbonated alcoholic drinks. Have an appletini or a nonfizzy wine instead.
- If you’re on the spirits, add noncarbonated mixers.
- Avoid chugging challenges or anything that involves drinking super fast (that includes butt-chugging — it’s definitely very dumb). Knocking back booze like there’s no tomorrow is bad for you anyway.
- Don’t drink and dance at the same time (this is sometimes tricky — in those instances, just incorporate the hiccups into the dance and reclaim your swag).
- Don’t drink in excess. This isn’t just advice for hiccups, either. Regular binge drinking can be as dangerous as prolonged alcohol consumption. Always drink in moderation.
There’s little evidence directly linking alcohol misuse conditions to hiccups. But they can lead to complications that cause chronic hiccups.
Alcohol misuse conditions have many symptoms and complications. Many of these can be incredibly serious and even fatal. Hiccups are probably quite low on the list of concerns for those living with alcohol misuse conditions.
What do I do when drinking causes more problems than just hiccups?
Alcohol misuse can feel like it dominates your life. If you think you might be experiencing habit-formation with alcohol, or have a friend or family member that’s experiencing it, you’re certainly not alone.
Help is always just around the corner:
- Alcoholics Anonymous. This is an international fellowship to help people who live with alcohol misuse conditions. Find an AA meeting near you.
- NIAAA Alcohol Treatment Navigator. This tool can help you find treatment options and facilities near you.
- Al Anon. This organization helps friends or family members of peeps with alcohol misuse conditions.
- SAMHSA. Here are resources for coping with the mental health conditions that can emerge from substance misuse conditions.
There are many reasons you can get hiccups. But science still hasn’t proved exactly why they happen.
There’s also no guaranteed way to get rid of or avoid hiccups, but there are some tricks to stack the odds in your favor. Avoid chugging challenges and stick to noncarbonated booze, and you stand a greater chance of dodging the hics.
Alcohol misuse conditions can lead to digestive complications and conditions that may trigger chronic hiccuping.