Many of us have suffered from headaches after drinking alcohol. But what really is an alcohol headache?
Many people who deal with migraines or chronic headaches can be more sensitive to alcohol than others. Even a small amount of alcohol can be a headache trigger in these people. For others, you might experience the odd headache after a night out at the bar with friends. Why does this happen and how can you minimize your symptoms?
You might experience headaches for a variety of reasons, such as:
- Blood pressure
- Family history
- Changes in weather
- Certain medications
- Skipped meals or fasting
- Increased stress and anxiety
- Changes in normal sleep pattern
Alcohol consumption can usually lead to two different types of heads.
Headache right away - Most people will get a headache within 30 mins to a few hours after consuming alcohol. It could be after a few drinks, or even just a few sips. This is usually considered a primary headache, and could include cluster headaches, migraines and tension headaches.
Delayed headache - Otherwise, you might experience a delayed alcohol-induced headache (DAIH). This usually happens after your blood alcohol level lowers back down to normal the following day. This type of headache is more common in those who also suffer from migraines.
We know that drinking alcohol excessively can dehydrate our body. However, we often forget that dehydration can lead to headaches.
Alcohol in drinks such as wine and beer contains Ethanol, which is also a natural diuretic. This means that you’ll need to pee more than normal, and can lead to increased dehydration if you’re not careful. Your body will also lose important vitamins, salt and nutrients, which could also lead to a chemical imbalance.
Ethanol is also a direct vasodilator, which means it dilates blood vessels. These action of reduced blood pressure has been linked to headaches in some people. Certain medications also reduce blood pressure which could compound the situation (and make the headaches worse).
Certain types of alcohol, such as cocktails, have a high level of sugar content because they’re mixed with other ingredients to taste better. This increased amount of sugar (especially after a few cocktails) has been shown to cause headaches as well.
Those with alcohol intolerance (sometimes called Asian Flush) may find that they experience headaches from drinking alcohol, along with other symptoms. Alcohol intolerance is usually caused by an ineffective liver enzyme and can result in headaches, flushed face, dizziness and even hives. To learn more about this condition, check out our Ultimate Guide to Asian Flush.
Treatment for alcohol headaches
You experience alcohol headaches and you want them to stop, or at least be less severe. How can you do this?
Of course, you can always stop drinking alcohol if it triggers migraines or headaches. Alcohol intake has a link with pain, unfortunately, and alcohol and migraines have seen to go together for some people.
However, many of us enjoy alcohol and want to find a way around eliminating it from our lives completely.
Keep a food & drink diary
If you’re unsure if alcohol is the primary cause of your headaches, keeping a food and drink diary could be very helpful. Keep a simple diary of what you eat and drink, and note down anytime you have a headache. You should also include the amount of stress you feel around those times as well. You should soon begin to see if the headaches happen around the times you have alcohol, or a different trigger.
If you find that alcohol (or other food or drink trigger) is causing headaches, eliminate that item from your diet. On the advice of your doctor, you may begin to introduce that item back into your diet after awhile, and see if your symptoms resurface. If the headaches return, you can conclude that that item causes headaches or migraines.
It’s important to speak to your doctor before starting an elimination diet.
It’s simple, but often staying properly hydrated is overlooked. If you suffer from headaches caused by alcoholic beverages, it’s important to drink water or non-alcoholic drinks when you’re out. Ideally, drink a non-alcoholic drink in between every alcoholic drink to stay hydrated and minimize the likelihood of getting a headache.
If you can manage it, it’s great to drink about a pint of water before you go to bed. This will help rehydrate your body and reduce hangover symptoms the next day.
Have alcohol with a meal
Some people with migraines report that having a meal with alcohol can minimize their chances of getting a migraine, or cluster headache. This means you won’t be drinking alcohol on an empty stomach. It also means you tend to drink slower, since you’re eating as well.
If you suffer from headaches or migraines when you have alcohol, your doctor may suggest taking painkillers as relief. You might find that you experience hangover headaches, felt the next day. Painkillers in this situation could help as well.
Of course, you don’t want to be having to take painkillers consistently, as they can make the problem worse.
Choose your drinks wisely
You may find that certain drinks make your headaches worse, like sugary cocktails, white wines or bubbly sparkling wines. Try your best to avoid these. It also helps to choose drinks that you tend to drink slower, which means it gives your body adequate time to break it down in your system. If you drink too much too quickly, your body will be flooded with alcohol and all its negative byproducts.
Some people who experience migraines find that just drinking a small amount of alcohol won’t induce a migraine or headache. You may find that you feel fine after having one alcoholic drink, but begin to feel headache symptoms if you drink more than that. Stay within your comfortable limit.
Sleep it off
If you find yourself faced with a full-blown alcohol headache or migraine, you may need to sleep it off. Rest can help speed up your recovery, especially if you’re feeling hungover from alcohol.
We know there are various links between alcohol and headaches, from reduced blood pressure, dehydration and everything in between. If you suffer from migraines caused by alcohol, the best case scenario is to stop drinking. However, if you’re still interested in having a glass of wine with dinner, there are a few treatment options listed here that you can try.
If headaches or migraines are impeding on your quality of life, it’s important to speak to your doctor about other treatment options.