We've all been there: you're out with friends, you have a few drinks, and then all of a sudden you're hiccuping like an over-excited child. It's not what you'd call a good look. But is it normal to hiccup after drinking?
"For the most part, hiccups are harmless," says Dr. Jeremy Rezmovitz, a family physician at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto. There's nothing unusual or dangerous about "drunk hiccups," but it might be a sign that you've had a few too many.
Rezmovitz wouldn't necessarily tell someone hiccuping that they should stop drinking, but he adds that he "would argue that they would definitely benefit from some reflection on how they feel and what contributed to how they feel."
How does alcohol cause hiccups?
There are two main reasons that drinking might cause hiccups, and they're both connected to the way your body digests alcohol.
If you're drinking something carbonated, like beer or champagne, that carbonation will expand your stomach. That expansion can irritate your diaphragm, the C-shaped muscle that sits above and around the stomach. Your diaphragm can contract involuntarily — that's a hiccup.
There's also the acid reflux explanation. Alcohol reduces the tone of the lower esophageal sphincter, the ring of muscles that leads from the esophagus into the stomach. When it has less tone, the sphincter can release stomach contents back up into the esophagus. If the esophagus is irritated, that can in turn irritate the diaphragm, which will again cause hiccups, Rezmovitz explains.
Some doctors believe that hiccups are related to brain chemistry, but Rezmovitz says that theory is less understood, and he's not sure if it's true. There's the possibility that alcohol may "fire off a tripwire" that effects the vagus nerve, which connects the brain to various organs, including the diaphragm.
There are also several illnesses that cause hiccups, primarily disorders involving the stomach or esophagus. And Rezmovitz says that as with anything else, it's likely that some people are just genetically pre-disposed to hiccup more often.
How do I get rid of drunk hiccups?
There's not a whole lot you can do once you have them, but there are several things worth trying to hiccups less likely, Rezmovitz says.
Drink more slowly. You're more likely to irritate your digestive system if you're drinking fast.
Drink water more often. In the case of an irritated esophagus, "drinking water may improve things," he says.
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If you're into beer, drink it out of a glass rather than a can or bottle. Carbonation will be released out into the air when you pour beer into a glass. Without doing that, the carbonation will release and expand in your stomach, Rezmovitz says. "If you drink out of a can or a bottle, the chance of you burping or hiccuping is probably way higher."
Drink non-carbonated alcohol. Yet another reason to choose wine.
Don't drink alcohol at all. "Find a different vice," Rezmovitz suggests. "If you do know that alcohol causes you to have hiccups, I'm so sorry, but find something else. Marijuana is now legal." (Quick note: he was, of course, referring specifically to Canadian law.)
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