Drinking alcohol in excess or, in some cases, small amounts can cause a person to throw up.
Throwing up, either when drunk or the morning after a night of drinking, can make a person feel better. However, vomiting can cause internal issues, whether it is intentional or occurs naturally.
Keep reading to learn more about the causes, benefits, and risks of throwing up after drinking alcohol.
Throwing up, or vomiting, is the body’s natural way of removing potentially harmful material that a person has ingested.
When the body processes alcohol, the liver converts it into a chemical called acetaldehyde, which is toxic. The liver then converts the acetaldehyde into acetate, which the body can remove by converting it to water and carbon dioxide.
The liver can only process a certain amount of acetaldehyde at a time. If acetaldehyde levels are higher than the liver can cope with, the body will remove the excess chemical by vomiting.
Binge drinking can be a cause of vomiting after drinking alcohol. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), binge drinking is when a female or male has approximately four or five drinks, respectively, in 2 hours.
The following factors may also cause people to throw up after drinking alcohol:
Drinking alcohol can also cause a person’s stomach to produce more acid than it would usually. This acid buildup can irritate the lining of the stomach, leading it to become inflamed, which is known as gastritis. Gastritis can cause:
- stomach pain
- stomach bleeding
Another possible cause of vomiting after drinking is alcoholic ketoacidosis (AKA). AKA typically occurs in people with chronic alcohol use, although it occasionally affects people who binge drink. Following a bout of drinking, people with AKA are often unable to tolerate food for 1–3 days.
A person with AKA may experience persistent vomiting and stomach pain. AKA can be life threatening without prompt treatment. Anyone who thinks that they might have AKA should seek medical attention immediately.
Alcohol poisoning is another potentially fatal cause of vomiting after drinking. Alcohol poisoning occurs when a person ingests a large amount of alcohol over a short period.
According to the NIAAA, signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning include:
- mental confusion
- difficulty remaining conscious or unable to wake
- slow breathing, meaning fewer than eight breaths per minute
- irregular breathing, with 10 seconds or more between breaths
- slow heart rate
- clammy skin
- dulled responses
- no gag reflex
- extremely low body temperature
- blue or pale skin
If a person is with someone who is exhibiting any of these symptoms following a large intake of alcohol, they should immediately dial 911 for medical assistance.
Throwing up after drinking may reduce stomach pain that the alcohol has caused. If a person throws up shortly after having a drink, the body may not have absorbed the alcohol, potentially lessening its effects.
However, the risks of throwing up after drinking alcohol greatly outweigh any possible benefits.
A person who vomits after drinking is at risk of potentially serious side effects.
Being sick while extremely intoxicated is dangerous due to the possibility of the person passing out before or while vomiting. There is a risk that the person could breathe in their own vomit, and as alcohol poisoning can limit a person’s gag reflex, they could choke to death.
Inhaling vomit is also dangerous even when a person is not at risk of passing out. A person who breathes in vomit when they are being sick could potentially develop pneumonia as a result.
Forceful retching can also damage the esophagus (food pipe), which can result in bleeding.
Prolonged vomiting can cause dehydration, meaning that the person does not have enough water for their body to function properly. Symptoms of dehydration include:
- a dry, sticky mouth
- a swollen tongue
- a headache
- dry skin
- weight loss
- dark yellow urine
Although it may seem like a good idea when feeling nauseated, a person should not make themselves sick without first consulting a medical professional.
A person who induces vomiting by sticking an object down their throat runs the risk of scratching or puncturing their esophagus.
A person who regularly makes themselves throw up may experience symptoms such as:
- electrolyte imbalance
- throat damage
- tooth decay
Occasionally, a person may have a preexisting condition that can cause them to be sick after drinking only small amounts of alcohol. These conditions include:
Alcohol intolerance is a condition that makes a person unable to process alcohol properly.
Symptoms of alcohol intolerance that may appear when drinking include:
- low blood pressure
- facial redness
- itchy bumps, or hives, on the skin
- worsened asthma, in people with this condition
A person may also have an intolerance of certain ingredients that go into alcohol, such as grains, sulfites, and preservatives.
Mixing alcohol with other drugs, including prescription, over-the-counter, and illegal drugs, can be very dangerous. Alcohol can amplify the side effects of certain medications, such as drowsiness and lightheadedness. Other drugs can cause the following reactions in combination with alcohol:
- loss of coordination
According to the NIAAA, mixing some drugs with alcohol may put a person at risk of internal bleeding, heart problems, and difficulty breathing. A person should always read the enclosed leaflets of any drugs that they are taking before drinking alcohol.
Illegal drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, can cause serious damage, and even death, when a person mixes them with alcohol.
Additional health issues
Certain health issues can cause a person to feel sick or vomit when they drink alcohol. Alcohol can irritate the lining of the stomach, which may cause preexisting conditions, such as gastritis or stomach ulcers, to flare up.
People claim that various remedies and treatments help them become sober. However, methods that people often use to sober up, such as drinking coffee, taking a cold shower, or “walking it off,” can, in fact, do more harm than good.
Caffeine, for example, may further dehydrate a person who is already dehydrated from alcohol. If a person is drunk, their balance may be impaired, so walking it off may lead to accidents and serious injury. Alcohol decreases body temperature, which a cold shower could lower even further, leading to the risk of hypothermia.
The best thing that a person can do to decrease the effects of alcohol is to drink in moderation or abstain from drinking altogether. Drinking no more than 14 units of alcohol per week can help reduce the risks associated with drinking.
Eating a carbohydrate-rich meal before drinking can help slow the rate at which the body absorbs alcohol, reducing its effects. Drinking water or soda between alcoholic drinks may also lessen the effects of the alcohol.
There are many reasons why a person may vomit after drinking alcohol. Although it may reduce immediate symptoms, throwing up when drinking can cause serious health problems.
A person should not force themselves to be sick when drinking or afterward, even if they feel nauseated.
Anyone who experiences any of the symptoms of alcohol poisoning should seek medical attention immediately.