Alcohol and Headaches – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Drinking Alcohol containing beverages are very often associated with Headaches particularly Migraine and Cluster Headache. It is a very important trigger as the Hangover is commonly accompanied by a severe throbbing Headache.

Duration

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 next morning. The headache remains as long as the hangover lasts. A hangover lasts around 72 hours on average and the duration might vary for each individual depending on his tolerance.

alcohol and headache

Symptoms

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

Causes

  • 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 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.
  • Vasoldilation in skull and brain vessels is also one reason of Headaches. But this doesn’t fully explain a Delayed Alcohol-induced Headache (DAIH).

What sort of Alcohol triggers an attack?

All sorts of alcohols can trigger a headache. The most 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 a very little affect.

Alcohol and migraine

  • Alcohol is the main trigger for a migraine attack, Red wine being the main culprit.
  • Drinking Alcohol can provoke two types of Headaches; an early headache, that develops within 30 mins to 3 hours 
  • And a Delayed Alcohol-induced Headache (DAIH) that develops the next day.
  • A few studies showed that people who stopped or decreased their Alcohol consumption reported with less episodes of Migraine.

Amount of Alcohol required to induce Alcohol Headaches

To provoke a headache the Alcohol has to cross the blood-brain barrier. This too depends mainly on brain sensitivity. 

On an average around 5 shots are required to trigger a headache, most commonly a migraine Attack.

Precautions

  • Hydrate yourself before drinking: 
  • 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.

Treatment

To get rid of a Headache after Hangover you can take: 

  • Anti-inflammatory substances block the production of enzymes that cause headaches.
  • Vitamin B6 help get rid of Alcohol faster from the body.
  • N-acetyl cysteine:  it reduces the effect of Alcohol on 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 affect.
  • Avoid any migraine medication for as long as you can. 

When to see the 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.

FAQ

What type of Alcohol is most likely to cause Headache?

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 towards brain. This can cause Headache.

Which alcohols are less likely to cause a headache?

Hard liquors like Rum, Vodka are less commonly involved in a Headache.