Snoop Dogg’s “Gin & Juice.” Taylor Swift’s “champagne problems.” Adele’s “I Drink Wine.” If going by popular music alone, vocal performances and alcohol seem to have a connection both intrinsic and indelible. However, while some may swear by the power of a hot toddy before belting it out, alcohol generally has a negative impact on vocal health. Here’s everything you need to know about alcohol’s effect on the voice.
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Dehydration: As anyone who has nursed a painful hangover knows, alcohol is dehydrating. When the vocal cords aren’t hydrated, they roughly vibrate against each other, which causes hoarseness.
Mucus: Alcohol consumption can also cause your body to overproduce mucus to fight back against dehydration. The feeling of this slippery secretion can force you to clear your throat, which can further irritate the cords.
Irritation: Ongoing alcohol use means that you’re making your vocal cords dry, inflamed, and irritated, which can make your voice sound hoarse and unpleasant.
Chronic laryngitis: Consistent alcohol consumption can irritate the larynx enough that it creates a state of chronic laryngitis, or laryngitis that lasts for longer than three weeks. In turn, this can cause vocal polyps and nodules to form, which may require surgical intervention.
Serious illness: According to the CDC, "drinking alcohol raises your risk of getting several kinds of cancer," including of the mouth, throat, voice box, and esophagus. This is because the body breaks alcohol down into acetaldehyde, a chemical that damages DNA and can cause cells to mutate into cancerous tumors. These cancers can cause vocal changes including making your voice raspier, quieter, and sickly—or even make you lose your voice completely.
Here are some ways to get back your voice:
The epiglottis protects the vocal folds from the substances traveling down your food pipe, meaning that properly hydrating doesn’t directly help get your voice back. However, drinking water indirectly assists with vocal recovery by hydrating your body from the inside out. Aim for around two liters of water per day until your voice has recovered.
Using a humidifier helps rehydrate the vocal cords by adding moisture to the air. Moisturize yourself by inhaling the tiny water droplets released by a humidifier, which bypass the epiglottis to directly hydrate the vocal cords. Try a humidifier overnight with a setting of 30% to 50%.
Another way to moisturize your vocal folds is to harness the power of steam by:
- Taking a hot shower or bath and breathing in the steam it creates
- Using a personal steamer
- Carefully boiling water, putting it in a bowl, and breathing in the steam—just be sure not to burn yourself
- Holding a steaming hot washcloth over your nose and mouth and inhaling gently
Getting buzzed makes your vocal folds buzz, so give them a break. Avoid speaking and singing entirely, if possible—or if you must, use a soft voice until your voice has recovered.
Reduce harmful behavior
If alcohol has damaged your voice, it’s probably best to lay off the sauce for a while. If that’s not entirely possible, try reducing the amount of alcohol you consume or sticking to less abrasive alcohol.
Seek medical help
You may require medical intervention or voice therapy to fully recover your voice. Don’t be afraid to seek help if needed.
Alcohol does not make you sing better. Some people believe that drinking makes them feel more confident and relaxed and thus makes them sing better—but as anyone who has attended late-night karaoke knows, alcohol-induced confidence does not necessarily translate to better vocal performance.
- Visualize yourself giving a killer performance.
- Practice until you know your piece inside and out.
- Act as though you’re confident until you are.
- Exercise regularly.
- Be your own hype man.
- Listen to music that pumps you up.
- Breathe deeply.
Medical advice disclaimer: Content in this article is provided for informational purposes only and does not intend to substitute professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.