Get the Hiccups When You Drink? — Here Are Some Reasons Why

Alcohol has all kinds of weird side effects — including an irritated nerve that could lead to those pesky drunk hiccups.

a group of women cheersing with flutes of champagne

Having one too many drinks can have a slew of embarrassing consequences: stumbling out of a bar, raiding the fridge — and sometimes, a mean case of drunk hiccups. (You could also be allergic to alcohol — here are a few signs of alcohol allergies.)

But why can happy hour leave you gasping uncontrollably? To understand that, you have to understand what a hiccup is. It's defined as "an involuntary contraction of the diaphragm which typically results in expulsion of air," says Richard Benya, M.D., a board-certified gastroenterologist and the director of the Loyola University Health System.

Your diaphragm is a thin sheet of muscle separating your chest cavity and your stomach, explains Gina Sam, M.D., a gastroenterologist in New York City. When you take a deep breath, it contracts. When you've got the hiccups, though, it spasms, she says. "The intake of your breath is suddenly stopped by the closing of the vocal cords," explains Dr. Sam.

Oftentimes, this is because the vagus nerve — which runs from your brain to your abdomen by way of organs such as your esophagus — becomes irritated, says Dr. Sam. Culprits of this irritation: swallowing too much air (ahem, carbonated drinks); eating a huge meal (your stomach can extend, rubbing up against your diaphragm, says Dr. Benya); piping hot beverages; periods of emotional stress; and yep: booze.

"It could be that alcohol promotes acid reflux and that could be irritating the esophagus," says Dr. Sam. When you drink, alcohol also gets into your brain and can trigger the vagus nerve, irritating it, adds Dr. Benya. (See Also: What Happens When You Mix Caffeine and Alcohol)

But while annoying, a pesky case of drunk hiccups (or any hiccup spell!) is usually normal. "It's when they become persistent — lasting for a day, 48 hours, or a week — that we become concerned," says Dr. Sam. This could be a sign of issues in the brain, cancer, infection, or stroke, she adds. "Patients who have had kidney problems or any irritation in the head, neck, or chest areas can also have the hiccups," says Dr. Sam.

And as for stopping 'em? "Hiccups are pretty involuntary," so you might not have great luck kicking them to the curb, says Dr. Benya. (Note: If you're suffering from persistent yelps, medicines called calcium channel blockers can help.)

Of course, no one will judge you for trying to stop them: Hold your breath, swallow a teaspoon of sugar, or plug your nose (or is it your ears...?). Just be warned: You might wind up simply looking as silly as you sound!

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