Why Do I Slur My Speech Sometimes? ---
Causes and Cures
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August 3, 2015
Joseph Strongoli,  Featured Columnist

Who hasn’t experienced or witnessed that special struggle in forming
words when tipping back a little too much of Grandpa’s Thanksgiving
moonshine, or his infamous Christmas Egg-Nog? Like trying to talk
underwater, or like trying to squeeze a tight fist with a numb hand,
slurred speech can feel like your brain is willing but your body won’t
comply, as if disconnected, unplugged. Might as well be trying to move
an inanimate object through telekinesis for as much as your lips,
tongue, and jaw muscles are obeying. But such symptoms don’t only
happen in the context of a little too much holiday cheer and spirits.
Suffering from slurred speech can signal much worse underlying
causes—dangerous, life-threatening conditions that should be treated
by a medical professional immediately.

Cat’s Got Your Tongue

The average, healthy person can speak up to 3-4 syllables per second.
But when someone suffers from slurred speech, the tongue and lips
cannot move with the same accuracy, coordination, and force as
before. The medical term for this condition is "dysarthria", and in
addition to slurred speech may include the following symptoms:

slow speech;

inability to speak louder than a whisper or speaking too loudly;

rapid speech that is difficult to understand;

nasal, raspy or strained voice;

uneven or abnormal speech rhythm;

uneven speech volume;

monotone speech;

difficulty moving your tongue or facial muscles;


problems chewing or swallowing.

People who suffer from dysarthria may also experience difficulties in
the following speech components: timing, vocal quality, pitch, volume,
breath control, speed, strength, steadiness, range, and tone. Some
specific observations include a continuous breathy voice, irregular
breakdown of articulation, monopitch, distorted vowels, word flow
without pauses, and hypernasality.

What Causes Slackjaw?

As mentioned above, extra helpings of Egg-Nog isn’t the only reason
for slurred speech, and there are a plethora of much more serious, and
potentially deadly underlying causes.

In people who suffer from dysarthria, an underlying nerve, brain, or
muscle disorder or dysfunction makes it difficult to control the muscles
of the mouth, tongue, larynx, or vocal cords. Depending on the
condition, muscles might be weakened, paralyzed, or unable to
coordinate in sync, or the nervous system’s ability to activate motor
units and effect correct range and strength of movements may be

Thus, slurred speech might be the result of brain damage due to injury,
brain tumors, dementia, degenerative brain diseases, multiple sclerosis,
Parkinson’s disease, or stroke.

Dysarthria could also result from damage from the nerves that excite
the muscles you use to speak, or damage to the muscles themselves,
such as in face or neck trauma or surgery. Neuromuscular diseases that
can cause slurred speech include cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy,
and myasthenia gravis.

Slurred speech may also result from psychological factors, such as
social anxiety, stage fright, or excessive nervousness in public.

But perhaps the most prevalent, and therefore most hazardous, cause
is stroke: in the United States, approximately 700,000 strokes occur
each year. A stroke happens when a blood clot lodges in the brain and
blocks blood flow, causing brain cells to die. Even more common are
mini-strokes, also called transient ischemic attacks (TIA), when a blood
clot causes a blockage and produces stroke symptoms, but eventually
dissolves and the symptoms go away. Most of the time in TIA,
symptoms only last for 10-20 minutes. If you or someone you know
experience intermittent periods of slurred speech that come and go,
you or they might be suffering from mini-strokes. A TIA is a warning
sign: it means that you are likely to have a full-blown stroke in the

Living With Slurred Speech

If you or a loved-one suffer from chronic slurred speech,  and it has
been established that the cause is a chronic condition and not a stroke
in the making, there area few things to consider to make dealing with
this condition easier for everyone involved.

If you suffer slurred speech, try to speak slowly so that your listeners
will better understand. Start small: introduce your topic with one word
or short phrase to prime your audience, before launching into longer
sentences. Gauge comprehension by confirming that your audience
understands what you are saying, before moving on. If you are tired,
keep it simple, as fatigue can make your speech even more difficult to
understand. Use other mediums to communicate, such as gesturing,
pointing, writing, typing, drawings, diagrams, photos, etc., so that you
don’t have to verbalize everything.

If you have a family member or friend with slurred speech, take the
following suggestions into consideration in order to make things easier
for them. Allow the person time to talk, and don’t finish sentences or
correct errors. Look at them when they are speaking, as lip reading
could boost your comprehension. Eliminate distracting noises in the
environment, and keep paper and pencil handy. Alert the person if you’
re having trouble understanding, but make sure to talk normally to
them: just because they have trouble speaking, doesn’t mean they have
trouble listening. Help them to create a book of words, pictures, and
diagrams to assist conversations.

The following are our top 6 remedies to cope with slurred speech:

1.     S
peech and Language Therapy

Speech and language pathologists (SLPs) are specialists/therapists
who evaluate, diagnose, treat, and help to prevent speech, language,
communication, swallowing, and other related disorders. If you suffer
slurred speech, SLPs are your best friends. Through speech therapy
they can help you adjust speech rate, strengthen face and mouth
musculature, improve mouth/tongue movement, regain coordination
and functionality, increase breath support, improve articulation, teach
adaptive strategies and help family members communicate with you.
Some recently developed therapies include the Lee Silverman voice
treatment (LSVT) and principles of motor learning (PML).

A 2012 study by Dr. M.C. Brady et al., at the University of Glasgow in
Scotland found that speech and language therapy significantly
improved stroke patients’ functional communication, receptive and
expressive language, outlook, and quality of life.

Drugs Got Your Tongue

Slurred speech can also be due to the side-effects of certain
medications, especially ones that act on the central nervous system,
such as narcotics, sedatives, phenytoin, or carbamazepine. Check with
your doctor to make sure your prescriptions aren’t the causing your
slurred speech.

Voice Therapy

Many patients with slurred speech frequently overuse or strain their
vocal cords as a result of constantly having to make themselves better
understood. Voice therapy involves teaching good vocal technique in
order to reduce the amount of pressure on vocal cords and the larynx.
A 2001 study by Dr. L. Ramig at the University of Colorado-Boulder
found that intensive voice treatment had significant effects treating
voice and speech disorders in patients with Parkinson’s disease. The
study measured voice loudness (measured as sound pressure level)
and inflection in voice frequency during sustained vowel phonation,
reading of a passage of text, and producing a monologue.

Alexander Technique

The Alexander Technique was developed by F.M. Alexander, a
Shakespearean orator who suffered from voice loss during his
performances.  When doctors found no physical cause, Alexander
concluded that his issues were psychosomatically self-inflicted.

He then developed a method  of mindful movements and postures to
avoid unnecessary muscular and mental tension in everyday activities,
and to help unlearn unconscious and subconscious maladaptive
physical habits in order to achieve a balanced state of rest and poise in
which the body is well-aligned.

The Alexander technique has been used by vocal coaches, actors,
musicians, and public speakers to improve vocal technique and tone,
posture, respiratory function, stress management, stage fright,
stuttering, and slurring speech.

A 2011 study by Dr. JP Woodman et al., at the University of York in the
UK found that the Alexander Technique was effective in treating
chronic back pain, disabilities associated with Parkinson’s Disease,
balance skills, posture, respiratory function, and stuttering and slurring
speech impediments.


Hypnosis is a trance-like state in which one experiences heightened
awareness, focus, and is more open to suggestion. Speech therapists
have utilized hypnosis in treating patients with speech disorders such
as stuttering, and in the treatment of voice and fluency disorders. A
1990 study by Dr. FK Macfarlane et al., at the Cardiff School of Speech
Therapy in the UK found that the major use of hypnosis in fluency and
voice disorders was to achieve relaxation and encourage self-esteem in
the client.

Augmentative and Alternative Means of Communication

Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices are tools
that make coping with dysarthria easier.

They include speech synthesis and text-based telephones, speech
generating devices (SGD), voice output communication aids (VOCA),
alphabet boards, visual cues, flip cards with words or symbols,
specialized computer programs that enunciate words by typing words
or clicking on symbols, and more.

AACs allow people to communicate effectively when they are fatigued,
in case of emergency, or if their condition has progressed such that
they are physically unable to communicate without these tools.

A famous example of communication with AACs is that of physicist
Stephen Hawking, who used AACs to write books, give lectures and
speeches, and even narrate documentaries.

A 2006 review by Dr. DC Millar at Radford University of 23 AAC
intervention studies found gains in speech production in 89% of the
cases studied.


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Slurring your speech could indicate a
medical problem.