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Why Do I Throw Up After Drinking Alcohol?

Throwing up after drinking is not uncommon, but it can be dangerous. After all, it takes work for your body to break down alcohol. And, if you drink too much, you’ll likely feel nauseous with or without vomiting.

An enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase works to break down alcohol as you consume it. It breaks it down to acetaldehyde, which is then further broken down to acetic acid. 

The more alcohol you consume (and the faster you consume it), the harder it is for your body to keep up. You get drunk when you drink faster than your body can break it down. 

Throwing up from binge drinking is very common. However, not everyone who binge drinks is considered an alcoholic. Nearly one-third of American adults are excessive drinkers, though only 10 percent of them are considered alcoholics. But even if you do not have an alcohol addiction, excessive drinking is dangerous and can be life-threatening.

Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) & Alcohol Poisoning

Binge drinking is a pattern of drinking that elevates your blood alcohol concentration (BAC), also known as your blood alcohol level, to .08 g/dL or above. 

Your BAC is expressed as the percentage of ethanol (in grams) in 100 milliliters of blood. While reaching a .08 BAC is the legal driving limit in most U.S. states, several factors affect your BAC.

Your food intake, hydration level, weight, age, gender, medications, and other factors can influence how quickly you reach a .08 BAC. However, typically, men reach a .08 level after about five drinks and women reach it after about four drinks in approximately two hours. 

The more drinks you consume in a shorter period, the higher and faster your BAC level will rise. As it does, you increase your chances of getting sick from alcohol. So it makes sense that binge drinking can lead to alcohol poisoning (intoxication).

Alcohol intoxication is a condition that occurs from drinking too much. It affects your breathing, heart rate, body temperature, gag reflex, and more. If you or someone you know has alcohol poisoning, call for emergency medical help right away.

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Do I Have a Hangover or Alcohol Poisoning (Intoxication)?

Both a hangover and alcohol poisoning happen from drinking too much. And both are characterized by throwing up, among other symptoms. The difference is that while you may experience a hangover the day after drinking, alcohol poisoning happens right after you consume it.

While a hangover may be uncomfortable, alcohol intoxication can be deadly. That’s why it’s important to know the signs and symptoms.

Hangover Symptoms

Hangover symptoms vary from person to person depending on several factors. How many alcoholic drinks you consume, how hydrated you are, and your food intake, weight, age, gender, and other factors can influence the severity of your hangover. 

Some common hangover symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Excessive thirst
  • Dry mouth
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Palpitations
  • Headaches
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea with or without vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Poor or decreased sleep
  • Increased sensitivity to light and sound
  • Dizziness
  • Shakiness
  • Decreased ability to concentrate
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability

It’s important to get electrolytes in your body if you are hungover. Electrolytes can help hydrate you and replace the salt and potassium you’ve lost from drinking alcohol. 

Drinking water, getting some food in you, and practicing relaxation techniques can also help to alleviate your symptoms. 

Alcohol Intoxication Symptoms

Alcohol intoxication is a serious condition that happens when you drink too many alcoholic beverages. The side effects can be intense. 

Typically, alcohol intoxication (poisoning) symptoms include the following:

  • Confusion/stupor
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Slow or irregular breathing (less than eight breaths a minute or a gap of more than 10 seconds between breaths)
  • Blue-tinged skin or pale skin
  • Hypothermia (low body temperature)
  • Passing out or Black outs
  • Unconsciousness

Not everyone who has alcohol intoxication will experience every symptom. However, if you suspect that someone has alcohol poisoning, call for medical help immediately. Alcohol poisoning can result in death if left untreated.

Other Causes of Throwing Up After Drinking

You might throw up from drinking too much alcohol. But there are other causes of throwing up after drinking that don’t necessarily have to do with how much alcohol you consume. These include: 

Alcohol Gastritis

Alcohol gastritis refers to inflammation of the lining of the stomach due to alcohol consumption. This can cause you to throw up. 

Alcohol Intolerance 

Alcohol intolerance is genetic. It happens when your body doesn’t have the right enzymes to break down the toxins in alcohol. When your body can’t metabolize it, it can make you feel sick and throw up.

Alcoholic Ketoacidosis

Alcoholic ketoacidosis (AKA), also known as alcoholic ketosis or alcoholic acidosis, is a metabolic complication of alcohol use and starvation. It happens from heavily drinking on an empty stomach. But it can lead to vomiting or worse, including sudden death.

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Is It Good to Throw Up After Drinking Alcohol?

Alcohol is a stomach irritant, so it’s normal to feel nauseous after drinking it. 

Sometimes, your body just needs to rid itself of toxins from drinking too much alcohol, and throwing up is a natural response.

Risks of Vomiting After Drinking

Vomiting after drinking can be dangerous. Because alcohol depresses your nerves that control involuntary actions like breathing and gagging (which prevents choking), drinking too much can impair these functions entirely. 

If it does, you can choke on your own vomit, which could lead to death by asphyxiation (unable to breathe), especially if you are unconscious.

Once your BAC level hits about .25 or above, you may reach asphyxiation. It’s also important to note that your BAC can keep rising even if you stop drinking and even if you pass out. Alcohol in your stomach and intestine continue to enter your bloodstream and circulate around your body, so “sleeping it off” isn’t always a safe bet.

Why Am I Throwing Up Blood After Drinking?

There could be a few reasons as to why you are throwing up blood after drinking alcohol. 

Here are a few reasons why you might throw up blood after drinking alcohol:

  • Stomach ulcers
  • Duodenitis (when the first part of the small intestine becomes inflamed) 
  • Gastric erosions (when the tissue lining the stomach breaks down)
  • Gastric varices (when the veins in the stomach enlarge) 
  • Gastritis (when the lining of the stomach becomes inflamed) 
  • Mallory-Weiss tear (when the esophagus tears due to pressure from throwing up or coughing)

If you or someone you know is throwing up blood after drinking, you should reach out for emergency medical attention immediately. Vomiting blood could sign of a more serious health concern.

How to Stop Throwing Up After Drinking 

If you or someone you know is struggling with an alcohol problem, seek professional help. Quitting drinking isn’t necessarily easy to do on one’s own. Many people experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

The most dangerous kind of alcohol withdrawal happens to about one out of every 20 people. This condition is known as delirium tremens (it’s also known as DTs). It’s a rapid onset of symptoms like shaking, sweating, vomiting, hallucinating, and more — and can be fatal.

That’s why it’s important to seek medical assistance. Both inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation centers, support groups, cognitive behavioral therapy, and more are available to help.

Resources

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“Alcohol Intolerance.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 15 Apr. 2020, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alcohol-intolerance/symptoms-causes/syc-20369211 

“Alcohol Poisoning.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 19 Jan. 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alcohol-poisoning/symptoms-causes/syc-20354386

“Blood Alcohol Content and YOU.” Student Health Services - Blood Alcohol Content and YOU, https://studenthealth.ucsd.edu/resources/health-topics/alcohol-drugs/bac.html.

“Drinking Levels Defined.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 26 June 2020, www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/moderate-binge-drinking

“Drinking Too Much Alcohol Can Harm Your Health. Learn the Facts.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 Dec. 2019, www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm

“Factors That Affect How Alcohol Is Absorbed & Metabolized.” Factors That Affect How Alcohol Is Absorbed & Metabolized | Office of Alcohol Policy and Education, www.alcohol.stanford.edu/alcohol-drug-info/buzz-buzz/factors-affect-how-alcohol-absorbed

“Facts About Alcohol Overdose (or Alcohol Poisoning).” Facts About Alcohol Overdose for Students, www.collegedrinkingprevention.gov/parentsandstudents/students/factsheets/factsaboutalcoholpoisoning.aspx

“Gastritis.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 3 Apr. 2020, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gastritis/symptoms-causes/syc-20355807

“Hangover Treatment: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002041.htm

“Hangovers.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 16 Dec. 2017, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hangovers/symptoms-causes/syc-20373012

McGuire, L C, et al. “Alcoholic Ketoacidosis.” Emergency Medicine Journal : EMJ, BMJ Group, June 2006, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2564331/

Publishing, Harvard Health. “Alcohol Withdrawal.” Harvard Health, www.health.harvard.edu/a_to_z/alcohol-withdrawal-a-to-z

“The Science of the Sauce: What Happens to Your Brain When You Drink Alcohol? - Brain Health, Health Topics, Neuroscience.” Hackensack Meridian Health, 26 Mar. 2019, www.hackensackmeridianhealth.org/HealthU/2018/12/27/what-happens-to-brain-drink-alcohol/

“Vomiting Blood Causes.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 22 Feb. 2020, www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/vomiting-blood/basics/causes/sym-20050732

“Vomiting Blood: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003118.htm.

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