Alcohol and Headaches – Symptoms, Causes, and More

Drinking alcohol containing beverages is very often associated with headaches, particularly migraines and cluster headaches. Alcohol is a very important trigger as the hangover is commonly accompanied by a severe throbbing Headache lasting as long as the hangover lasts that is roughly 72 hours. You are very likely to develop a headache within 30 minutes to 3 hours of drinking alcohol or might not even develop a headache until the next morning.

Symptoms of hangover headache

  • Nausea
  • Malaise
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Increased thirst
  • Photophobia and phonophobia
  • Loss of coordination
  • Loss of attention
  • Visual symptoms like blurred vision.

Causes of hangover headache

  • Ethanol is a chemical that is present in alcohol-containing beverages. It is a natural diuretic and causes increased urination and thus dehydration. 
  • Alcoholic drinks contain histamine which causes inflammation in the body. It provokes the immune system to make more histamine thus excessive inflammation runs throughout the body.
  • Red wine particularly increases the serotonin levels that are important triggers for a migraine.
  • Vasodilation in the skull and brain vessels is also one reason for headaches. But this doesn’t fully explain a delayed alcohol-induced headache (DAIH).

What sort of alcohol triggers an attack?

All sorts of alcohol can trigger a headache. The strongest effect is produced by dark-colored alcohols like red wine, beer, rum, etc.  Whereas the other alcohols cause headaches equally or more frequently. Bourbon has a 37 times stronger effect than vodka. Hard liquors like vodka have very little effect.

Alcohol and migraine

  • Alcohol is the main trigger for a migraine attack, with red wine being the main culprit.
  • Drinking alcohol can provoke two types of headaches; an early headache, which develops within 30 mins to 3 hours, and a delayed alcohol-induced headache (DAIH) which develops the next day.
  • A few studies showed that people who stopped or decreased their alcohol consumption reported fewer episodes of migraine.

Amount of alcohol required to induce hangover headache

To provoke a headache the alcohol has to cross the blood-brain barrier. This too depends mainly on brain sensitivity.  On average around 5 shots are required to trigger a headache, most commonly a migraine attack.

Management of hangover headache


  • Hydrate yourself before drinking alcohol.
  • Drink plenty of water before you consume alcohol to avoid dehydration.
  • High fat-containing substances like peanuts and cheese decrease the absorption of alcohol.
  • Avoid carbs and sugar supplements as they enhance absorption in the blood.


To get rid of a headache after a hangover you can take: 

  • Anti-inflammatory substances block the production of enzymes that cause headaches.
  • Vitamin B6 helps get rid of alcohol faster from the body.
  • N-acetyl cysteine:  It reduces the effect of alcohol on the liver making your hangover less severe.

What to avoid?

  • Avoid any acetaminophen-containing drug such as Tylenol. 
  • The alcohol combined with Tylenol has a very bad effect.
  • Avoid any migraine medication for as long as you can.

When to consult a doctor?

If your symptoms start getting severe and they prolong, you should see a physician immediately, such as

  • Chills and seizures 
  • Skin color changes 
  • Shallow breathing
  • Constant vomiting
  • Unconsciousness.


What type of alcohol is most likely to cause headaches?

Red wine is most commonly involved in causing a headache. Other alcohols are equally involved.

What should I not take after drinking alcohol?

Acetaminophen-containing drugs should be avoided as they can cause stomach bleeding. Also, Tylenol should be avoided as much as possible.

What can be the possible cause of pounding headache minutes after drinking alcohol?

Alcohol causes Vasodilation and excess blood flow toward the brain. This can cause headaches.

Which alcohols are less likely to cause a headache?

Hard liquors like rum and vodka are less commonly involved in a headache.

Last medically reviewed on August 30, 2022.