Home > Causes > Alcohol and Headaches

Alcohol and Headaches

By: Ian Murnaghan BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 15 Feb 2014 | comments*Discuss
 
Alcohol Headaches Migraines Cluster Pain

For people who are prone to headaches identifying triggers is an important part of pain management. Alcohol is a common headache trigger for those who already suffer from headaches and on top of that, those who are usually headache-free will still suffer headaches from the hangover effect.

Headache Triggers

Alcoholic drinks contain ethanol, which can contribute to headaches through various mechanisms. Headaches begin from blood vessel vasodilation and ethanol can prompt these changes. In addition, ethanol is a diuretic and prompts the urinary loss of several vitamins and minerals, as well as causing dehydration.

Headaches may occur shortly following consumption of alcohol or the next morning, with the infamous 'hangover.' Those occurring shortly after tend to indicate specific alcohol sensitivity and are more likely to occur in people who already experience migraines or other such headaches.

Cluster headaches, in particular, are triggered by alcohol. For some people, it is the precise type of alcoholic drink that causes a headache. A person may experience a headache from one glass of wine but find that he or she can drink several shots of vodka without suffering from a headache. Even within wines, for example, some may find that a glass of white wine causes no problem yet red wine leaves them with an excruciating migraine. Red wine contains tyramine, which is a known migraine trigger and so avoidance of red wine may be necessary for some people.

Hangovers

A hangover is essentially a toxic reaction to alcohol and can even be considered food poisoning. Alcohol is a diuretic, thereby flushing fluids from your body, and will generally leave you quite dehydrated as well as contributing to a headache. Many of the impurities in addition to the alcohol itself can leave your stomach feeling upset and uncomfortable. Symptoms of a hangover include:

  • Headache
  • Extreme thirst
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhoea

There are several things you can do to avoid a hangover and the subsequent headaches that occur, with complete elimination of alcohol being the obvious one. Other tips include:

  • Hydrate yourself prior to drinking with either water or sports drinks.
  • Limit the amount of alcohol you consume to one or two drinks.
  • Avoid those drinks that trigger headaches, such as red wine, for example.
  • Eat before you drink, with a focus on sufficient fat. Fat takes the longest to digest of the macronutrients, and will help to slow the absorption of alcohol.

Painkillers

Be extremely cautious the next day if taking any painkillers for your headache, as alcohol still in your system combined with painkillers such as acetaminophen can have dangerous effects. Be sure to drink water to combat the dehydration caused by the alcohol. Many people drink coffee the next morning but as coffee it also a diuretic, this will only increase your dehydration and may also further upset your stomach and intensify your headache.

Alcohol Safety

You are the one to decide how much alcohol you can safely consume before you suffer from a headache. You may need to make a note of which drinks seem to trigger your migraines or other headaches. If you are fortunate enough to normally be headache-free, taking a little extra care before, during and after drinking by eating a balanced meal, drinking sufficient fluids and avoiding excessive amounts of alcohol can help prevent a hangover headache the next day. With a little extra effort in looking after yourself, you should be able to enjoy a few drinks and your body will thank you the next day. You'll feel better for it and can avoid those painful headaches.

You might also like...
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
I have been suffering with a constant headache for 22days now and nothing seems to work. Last night while out I had a small glass of wine and instantly my headache got worse making me feel dizzy and nauseous. I have always drunk alcohol and never experienced anything like this, is there any explanation?
kell - 15-Feb-14 @ 5:32 PM
After suffering with migraine from drinking lager for years.I did wonder if it was a chemical present in certain drinks as I can drink other types of alcohol with having the same effect. Reading these articles have been extremely useful. Thank you.
julia - 3-Feb-14 @ 6:48 AM
Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice...
Title:
(never shown)
Firstname:
(never shown)
Surname:
(never shown)
Email:
(never shown)
Nickname:
(shown)
Comment:
Validate:
Enter word:
Topics
Latest Comments
  • Julieregan
    Re: Headaches and Migraines in Women
    I have an overactive thyroid gland and have had it since I was 40. I am using carbimazole tablets once daily. I struggle with…
    25 July 2017
  • holycow
    Re: Sinus Headaches
    my daughter has been diagnosed as suffering from a virus in the brain, how can she get rid of this pounding headache that never stops
    24 July 2017
  • JTV56
    Re: Headaches After Head Injuries
    @Stells - I would - it doesn't harm and it's always best to be on the safe side. Jean.
    20 July 2017
  • Stells
    Re: Headaches After Head Injuries
    I fell backwards 2 weeks ago and hit my head on the pavement, initially it dud hurt and I had a headache the next day. I was on…
    19 July 2017
  • bree
    Re: Thyroid Disease and Headaches
    2011 March 27th migraine started after herniated disc c5/c6 had a formanectomy in 2012 after a conservation period under…
    12 July 2017
  • Tomba
    Re: Scalp Pain: What Causes It?
    My problem started about 15 days ago. The pain first started at the right side of the head including the right cheek, right ear and…
    6 July 2017
  • PrinDi
    Re: Scalp Pain: What Causes It?
    @Stinging Headpain - Poor you, it sounds genuinely awful. I hope you get better soon and manage to resolve all these awful…
    4 July 2017
  • Stinging Headpain
    Re: Scalp Pain: What Causes It?
    Oops...My pain is on top of left side of my head. It feels like my head is on fire sometimes..I have also tried a chiropractor.…
    3 July 2017
  • Stinging Headpain
    Re: Scalp Pain: What Causes It?
    I have been in pain off and on for 11 years...The first bout of pain lasted for 6 months..It will stop for a few months and start…
    3 July 2017
  • HeadacheExpert
    Re: Herbal Remedies for Headache and Migraine Relief
    Ummnoor - Your Question:If you have had an MRI (CTS?) scan and nothing unusual has been found then the…
    3 July 2017
Further Reading...
Our Most Popular...
Add to my Yahoo!
Add to Google
Stumble this
Add to Twitter
Add To Facebook
RSS feed
You should seek independent professional advice before acting upon any information on the HeadacheExpert website. Please read our Disclaimer.