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Alcoholic DrinksHow often have I sat in a club and watched the singer down shots of hard liquor or bottles of beer. In certain genres of Rock music it was so common you’d think alcohol was a “singer’s drink.” Fortunately in recent years this trend has diminished but I recently received an email from a singer asking me if drinking alcohol would adversely affect his voice. Singers who drink and sing usually do it to "take the edge off" or help them through stage fright, but whatever the reason, they don’t know what it’s doing to their voice.
 
Pal or Poison?
 
Whatever emotional associations one may have about liquor, for the body alcohol is a poison. And as with any poison, a small amount is a stimulant which will give you a “buzz” and larger amounts are sedatives which can cause you to lose motor control or pass-out. The body releases fluids to rid itself of this poison and so urination increases after drinking alcohol. This extra fluid release tends to dehydrate the body and especially the vocal folds.
 
Your vocal folds are small muscles encased in mucous membrane. They need to be fully hydrated and pliable to perform the subtle and precise movements demanded by singing. Alcohol’s dehydrating effect makes this difficult so wait until after your performance to have a celebratory drink. Then drink lots of water to help your body regain normal fluid levels and wait about 24 hours before singing again.
 
Alcohol may also increase production of mucous which gums up your vocal folds. Additionally, your body uses up its stores of B vitamins to counteract the effects of alcohol. B vitamins are essential nutrients for the proper function of your nervous system which in turn controls your muscles. So alcohol dehydrates your vocal folds, adds mucous and hinders your nervous system from controlling your vocal muscles well.  
 
Drinking Alcohol and Singing
 
You may have noticed your body feeling more relaxed after having an alcoholic drink or two. However, it impairs overall muscle coordination and this includes your vocal folds. Alcohol has a numbing effect on your throat and reduces awareness that you may be using too much force. One last hidden and dangerous effect of alcohol is blood capillary dilation. Along with the dehydration and the numbing effect, this creates the perfect storm of potentially rupturing a vocal fold blood vessel.
 
Perhaps you read my blog post several weeks ago about Sam Smith. I don’t know if alcohol played any part in Sam’s difficulties but ruptured blood capillaries in the vocal folds sent Sam, Adele, Bjork and Keith Urban to the otolaryngologist for vocal surgery in the last few years. Why take a chance that you could ruin your voice or at least cause yourself a lot of grief just to have a drink?
 
Wishing you success,
Jeannie Deva

Comments

  1. David Isabelli on August 5, 2015 at 7:35 PM said:
    Same with caffeine? Most vocal instructors and others have suggested to cut it out. I actually enjoy the taste of coffee. I don't used it to wake up and can fall asleep fairly easily after drinking it. Plus, I have a friend who did the Phantom, Christine Daé in both the Mexico City and Bueno Aires productions and she studied at Mexico Conservatory, is a professional singer and once having breakfast she drank coffee, so I asked her about it. But she does drink coffee. So is coffee a "NEVER!", "once in a while" or just not while singing?, ...which by the way I don't. I prefer room temp water while singing and as much coffee as I drink, I also drink a lot of water. So your opinion would be? As an aside, I am not a professional singer but I do sing a lot and still would like your counsel. Thanks!
  2. Jeannie Deva on August 5, 2015 at 7:54 PM said:
    Dear David, Coffee also dehydrates, but if you drink in moderation and not within a few hours of singing, it should be fine. It effects everyone a bit differently and it sounds like coffee isn't an issue for your singing, just don't drink it before or during singing. All the best.
  3. Sandy on August 5, 2015 at 8:41 PM said:
    Coffee certainly does affect everyone differently. I drink it moderately, matched ounce for ounce with water, during the day, and never w/in four hours of singing. My singing partner, however, guzzles it. (I wrote “Caffeine” but he lives it). He never goes anywhere without his coffee mug, especially on stage (it’s coffee, not water in there--I’ve seen him fill it), and he drinks far more of it than he does water. His bass-baritone voice is none the worse for it, though his smoking can’t help. He did have a peritonsilar abscess this spring, but it was secondary to an URI.
  4. Jeannie Deva on August 5, 2015 at 10:58 PM said:
    Dear Sandy, I know you pride yourself on your medical knowledge but not all my readers will know that a Peritonsillar Abscess is a swelling in the throat near the tonsils caused by a bacteria infection. And by URI, I believe you mean upper respiratory infection. It sounds like your singing partner should quit smoking.
  5. Cyrus on August 6, 2015 at 3:01 AM said:
    I drink coffee and green and black tea every day. I drink cold water in the summertime because it's so unbelievably hot here. I am singing under a coach who is overseas for a while but additional question: I have recently had some soreness when singing and talking (I'm a teacher and young kids and being heard doesn't help the situation) but I went to the doctor who did an exam, looked at the through with the scope on the screen and I saw everything including took a picture of the vocal folds but there was nothing. Possibly minor inflammation but no clear evidence of anything wrong. So I just stopped singing for a while. It did get better, but when I started singing again it hurt a bit. It's not hurting a lot, but it never hurt before, so I'm worried and I'm being careful not to over exert myself. Can vocal warmups help heal? Or what's the best healing? (I know something called "assists" are good and in addition to those?)
  6. Jeannie Deva on August 6, 2015 at 6:18 PM said:
    Cyrus, Good to hear the doctor found nothing wrong with your voice. Warm-ups can help. To give more specific feedback, I'd have to hear you sing live in a consultation which we could do via Skype. What are these "assists?"
  7. Cyrus on September 3, 2015 at 11:32 PM said:
    Thanks Jeannie, I would like to talk to you on Skype. Also another question I thought of. You've brought up a few times about some singers with vocal damage, and getting surgery, like Sam Smith. I could imagine that he would have had a vocal coach, especially as he can afford all the professional help he would need. I know Celine Dion travels with a voice coach. So then how do you think it could get so bad. My throat is sore regardless of having a teacher/coach. Is it fatigue or singing too often? I went to the doctor again, had another exam, and although he said the vocal folds look fine, and things look good--but it still hurts.
  8. Jeannie Deva on September 4, 2015 at 6:52 PM said:
    You're welcome Cyrus. I don't know if Sam Smith has a vocal coach. Having a coach is not a guarantee against blowing out one's voice. Having and using a correct vocal technique should allow a singer to sing a lot without blowing out their voice. There are many factors of vocal care and emotional stress, etc., that also play a part in vocal blow-out. I cover these aspects with singers I coach. You and I should have a consultation if you want to sort out why your voice hurts.
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