Many people have had a headache after drinking alcohol, especially after drinking too much. Although headaches are generally recognized as a side effect of alcohol in many people, its reputation as a migraine trigger can be overestimated.
Keep reading to find out how alcohol triggers migraines or other headaches, and what you can do about it.
Many things can trigger migraines: stress, lights, smells, and even certain foods and drinks. Here are some examples of foods and drinks that can trigger migraines:
Types of headaches associated with alcohol
When researching what triggers your headaches, it’s important to know exactly what type of headache you’re experiencing. Alcoholic beverages are generally associated with certain types of headaches such as:
- migraine without aura
- migraine with aura
- cluster headache
- tension headache
While people who have these headaches report a connection to alcohol, there is no real consistency in how alcohol causes these headaches to develop, according to studies that have been done. Instead of, researchers suggest that alcohol as a trigger is more of a personal reaction – common in some types of headache – than a general effect.
The number of drinks you drink, what you drink and what is going on in your life may be the main culprits, rather than the alcohol itself.
Conflicting research on alcohol-related headaches
There have been a few
Another thing that remains uncertain is whether the type of alcohol you drink determines whether or not you will have a migraine. Some studies have found that
“All alcoholic beverages cause headaches, and the type of beverage consumed most frequently in a country is likely to be the type of alcoholic beverage most commonly reported to cause headaches.”
Alessandro Panconesi, author of the article, Alcohol-induced headaches: evidence for a central mechanism?
Alcohol has different effects on the body depending on when you drink it. This is called immediate and delayed alcohol-induced headaches.
The first effects of alcohol may reduce sensations and have a pain relieving effect, but when alcohol leaves the body, it can have the opposite effect and increase sensitivity to pain. Some studies reported that alcohol can trigger a migraine in people who are sensitive to it in as little as 30 minutes – or it can take 3 hours.
Alcohol withdrawal headaches – also known as delayed alcohol-induced headaches (DAIH) or hangovers – usually develop in the morning after drinking alcohol, when the alcohol level is low. in your blood drops to almost nothing.
On two thirds of people who drink alcohol develop these headaches. People who suffer from migraines are more prone to these reactions, even after drinking less alcohol than people who do not have migraines.
Avoiding alcohol isn’t the only way to avoid an alcohol-related migraine. Moderate alcohol consumption has some health benefits, but the key is knowing what types of alcohol are causing your headaches, in what amounts, and what other factors might be involved.
Since alcohol consumption is frequently associated with stress, it is important to keep a journal containing:
- what you drink
- how much you drink
- what else happened that day (like stress, lack of sleep)
- how often you develop a headache after drinking this type of alcohol
If you notice a consistency patterns, there is a good chance that the alcohol is causing your migraine.
Without a consistent cause-and-effect situation, however, there could be a number of factors – not just alcohol – that are triggering your migraine. If you notice a trend, especially with particular types of alcohol over others, you may choose to avoid the offending drinks.
There is also not you can take to avoid developing a delayed alcohol-induced headache. These include:
- Drink with moderation
- slowly sipping your drink
- alternate your alcoholic drink with non-alcoholic drinks
- mix your drinks with fruit or vegetable juices
- eat 2 tablespoons of honey before drinking
- eating fatty foods before drinking to slow down alcohol absorption
If you’ve identified alcohol as a trigger for your migraines, it’s probably best to avoid it altogether. The same is true if you find that certain types of alcohol trigger your migraines more than others. Avoiding migraine triggers is one of the only surefire ways to avoid migraine symptoms.
If you develop a migraine while drinking alcohol or immediately after, you can try the following techniques to relieve your symptoms:
For delayed headaches, or hangover, you can try:
- drink tomato juice
- drinking fluids with minerals and salts
- try sports drinks
- drink coffee right away or another drink with caffeine
- consider ibuprofen over other over-the-counter pain relief medications
Whether or not alcohol is a migraine trigger is debatable. Although some people get migraines after drinking alcohol, not everyone does.
In many cases, researchers say it’s more about individual triggers or other factors that coincide with your drinking, like stress.
If you suffer from migraines after drinking alcohol, it may be best to avoid alcohol. Talk to a doctor about ways to identify your migraine triggers and what to do if you develop these headaches.