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Alcohol and Health

Why Do You Get Hiccups When You Drink?

April 16, 2024
16 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
April 16, 2024
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
April 16, 2024
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
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Reframe Content Team
April 16, 2024
16 min read

Demystifying Drunk Hiccups 

  • Hiccups are an involuntary response of our diaphragm that causes air to hit our vocal cords and make a “hic” sound. Drinking alcohol, acid reflux, swallowing air, or stress can all induce hiccups.
  • Holding your breath, biting a lemon, hugging your knees to your chest, or drinking cold water can help relieve hiccups. However, hiccups from alcohol may end up lasting longer.
  • Avoid those drunk hiccups by quitting or cutting back on alcohol! The Reframe app empowers you with the science-backed information you need to make informed decisions about your drinking habits.

Hiccup! Hiccup! Hiccup! Ugh — it’s happening again. You just got home after a night out, and somehow you have hiccups again. All you can think is how hard it’s going to be to sleep if these hiccups don’t go away — and you’ll do anything to stop them.

Most of us have experienced hiccups at some point in our lives, and they can be hard to get rid of! Keep reading to learn about why we get hiccups, how we can stop them, why alcohol famously causes hiccups, and how to prevent another attack of drinking-related hiccups in the future. 

What Are Hiccups? 

A hand holding wooden blocks with the words stop hiccups written on them

Hiccups are an involuntary spasm of the diaphragm. The diaphragm is an organ below the lungs which separates the base of the chest from the abdomen and is essential for us to breathe. The diaphragm contracts rhythmically and continually to allow us to breathe.

When we inhale, our diaphragm contracts and flattens to create a vacuum effect that pulls air into the lungs. As we exhale, our diaphragm relaxes to help push air out of the lungs. The action of the diaphragm is controlled subconsciously by our brain. Aside from helping us breathe, the diaphragm also increases abdominal pressure so we can vomit, urinate, or pass bowel movements, and it puts pressure on the esophagus to prevent acid reflux. 

Hiccups have inspired many superstitions over the years. Some believe that getting hiccups means someone is talking about or missing us. Others have claimed that hiccups are caused by elves or spirits! However, science tells us that hiccups occur when our diaphragm involuntarily spasms. During an episode of hiccups, our brain signals our diaphragm to forcefully move downward and contract, which causes air to get sucked into the back of our throat. As this happens, our vocal cords close and create a “hic” sound. 

What Causes Hiccups?

Hiccups are the result of the physical reaction in our diaphragm. The hiccup reflex starts with major nerve pathways from the diaphragm region (the phrenic and vagus nerves). From there, the information is processed in the midbrain, which is also responsible for several other reflexes. The midbrain then sends signals to widespread nerve pathways that control the muscles in the diaphragm and chest.

That’s quite the journey through our body! Let’s take a look at some different factors that can trigger the hiccup reflex. 

  • Swallowing air. Chewing gum, smoking, eating or drinking too quickly, or sucking on hard candies all increase the amount of air we swallow. Swallowing large amounts of air can irritate the vagus and phrenic nerves, which may trigger hiccups. 
  • Overeating. If we eat too much food in one sitting or drink a large volume of carbonated beverages, our stomach distends (expands). As it grows larger, it can start to press on the diaphragm and cause hiccups. 
  • Excitement or stress. Being overly excited or acutely stressed can indirectly trigger hiccups by irritating or overstimulating the vagus nerve and activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the hiccup reflex.
  • Acid reflux. Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid or bile flows back from our stomach into our esophagus. Eating spicy foods, drinking alcohol, or having a heavy meal can induce acid reflux, and it can also be caused by a weak esophageal sphincter muscle. Reflux can irritate the diaphragm or the nerve that sends signals to our brain, thereby inducing hiccups.  

Does alcohol cause us to hiccup? The short answer is yes, alcohol can lead to hiccups! Alcohol acts directly on our brain and central nervous system, making its way to every corner of our body and slowing down nerve signals. Drunk hiccups can directly result from changes to the nervous system and inhibition of signals in the brain or result indirectly by causing acid reflux and filling up our stomach with carbonation.

Whether we get alcohol hiccups or hiccups from other causes, they manifest in the same way. At best, they’re an annoyance — but they do have a dark side. 

Can Drunk Hiccups Be Dangerous? 

Depending on the duration, hiccups have different classifications.

  • Acute/transient hiccups last for a few minutes or hours.
  • Persistent hiccups last more than 48 hours.
  • Chronic hiccups last for days, weeks, or years.

Acute hiccups should go away on their own. Persistent hiccups and chronic hiccups typically require hospitalization. In the United States, approximately 4,000 people per year are hospitalized with problematic hiccups. If you have hiccups that last longer than 48 hours or are extremely painful, seek medical attention.

Persistent and chronic hiccups are rare but dangerous — they can interfere with eating, drinking, talking, breathing, sleeping, or cause significant pain. Risk factors include encephalitis, meningitis, multiple sclerosis, stroke, brain injury, tumors, diabetes, kidney disease, electrolyte imbalance, and damage to or irritation of the phrenic or vagus nerves.

Getting hiccups after drinking isn’t any different than getting hiccups any other time. However, if our hiccups are a response to alcohol’s depressant effect on our nervous system, the hiccups can persist until our body has processed all of the alcohol, which could take about an hour for every standard drink we’ve had.

Tips for Stopping Hiccups

Tips for Stopping Hiccups

Most of the time, hiccups will go away on their own. However, hiccups can be very annoying, and we might be willing to try almost anything to stop them. There are a lot of home remedies for hiccups that people swear by, but many of them are not backed by science.

There are a few science-backed strategies that may help relieve hiccups:

  • Breathing and posture. Holding your breath and breathing into a paper bag can increase carbon dioxide in the blood, which makes the body rethink its automatic breath signals. Curling up in a ball and hugging your knees can also help.

  • Cold water. Drinking cold water or taking a cold shower can stimulate the vagus nerve, disrupting the hiccup cycle.
  • Lemon juice. Sucking on a lemon wedge or sipping some lemon juice can give a shock of flavor to our pharynx, part of the hiccup pathway. This can “reset” the nerves in the pharynx and scare them out of their hiccup cycle.

  • A spoonful of sugar. Mary Poppins was onto something! A spoonful of sugar can directly stimulate the pharynx (just like lemon juice), which could shock the nerves back into line.

There are endless folk remedies for curing hiccups and for how to get rid of drunk hiccups specifically, but most of them are not backed by science. In most cases, time is the most reliable remedy.

The unfortunate truth is that when it comes to quick fixes for how to get rid of hiccups when drunk, there’s no shortcut. In fact, due to alcohol’s interference with the central nervous system, drunk hiccups could last even longer than sober hiccups.

Don’t forget: if you have hiccups for longer than 48 hours, seek medical attention to check for any underlying causes and get some much-needed relief.

Let’s Avoid Those Hiccups!

Getting rid of drunk hiccups may be just a game of time, but there are proven ways to avoid hiccups in the first place. Let’s look at a few: 

  • Pass on carbonated beverages. Avoiding or limiting carbonated drinks can help us avoid hiccups because the fizzy drinks can distend our stomachs and irritate our diaphragm. Even mixing liquor with soda or other carbonated beverages can increase our chance of developing hiccups. Take it easy!
  • Drink and eat slowly. Taking our time prevents us from swallowing excess air that can irritate our diaphragm and trigger hiccups. Be careful when those drunchies strike and consider eating a big meal before planning to drink (this has the added benefit of slowing alcohol absorption!).
  • Drink alcohol in moderation. Drinking in moderation can help us avoid hiccups. Excess alcohol can cause hiccups by triggering acid reflux or distending our stomachs in large volumes. 
  • Avoid carbonation. If you’re prone to hiccups, avoid carbonated beverages like beer, sparkling wine, or mixed drinks with soda. Stick with still options — or, better yet, try a mocktail!
  • Stress management. Managing stress is great for our overall health and well-being, and can also help us avoid hiccups. Deep breathing, meditation, mindfulness, or exercise can help us handle stressful situations and day-to-day stressors. 
  • Avoid spicy foods. Eating spicy foods can trigger acid reflux and stimulate the nerves that control the diaphragm, thereby causing hiccups. Avoid spicy foods or eat them in moderation, especially if you’ve been diagnosed with acid reflux, are sensitive to spicy foods, or are prone to hiccups. 

Final Thoughts 

Sometimes, hiccups are an unavoidable part of life. However, alcohol is one avoidable factor! There are many health benefits to living alcohol-free or cutting back on alcohol, and eliminating hiccups from drinking is only the beginning!

Summary FAQs 

1. Help! I have hiccups from drinking! Do you have advice for how to get rid of alcohol hiccups? 

Sucking on a lemon, holding your breath, sitting with your knees to chest, gargling or sipping cold water, and swallowing a spoonful of sugar are a few tricks for getting rid of hiccups. Unfortunately, these quick fixes aren’t guaranteed to work: the best solution is time.

2. How long do drunk hiccups last?

Most cases of hiccups are acute or transient hiccups, which should last for only a few minutes to a couple of hours. An episode of hiccups lasting longer than 48 hours requires medical attention.

3. Why do you get hiccups when drinking alcohol?

Alcohol can induce hiccups from distending our stomachs, causing acid reflux, or inhibiting communication in our central nervous system.

4. Do any hiccup cures actually work?

Hiccup cures are not usually backed by science, so it’s not guaranteed they’ll work. Most of the time, hiccup cures are anecdotal accounts for things that worked for people in the past. The best cure is time. 

5. When should hiccups be a concern?

If you have had hiccups for more than two days or 48 hours, you should seek medical attention. Hiccups should also be treated by a doctor if they are interfering with sleeping, eating, or hydrating, or if they are causing extreme pain.

Say Goodbye to Drunk Hiccups. Try Reframe!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

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And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today! 

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