After one pint, my nose would get congested, and I’d get a throbbing headache. Eventually, the chemical makeup of your body becomes unbalanced, causing a hangover headache. In other words, these issues are a toxic byproduct of alcohol metabolism in the body. Unfortunately, there isn’t a specific figure we can give to tell you how much alcohol must be consumed to cause a headache. There are a couple of reasons why alcohol and headaches are so closely linked.
Why do I get headaches when I drink alcohol?
Alcohol is a diuretic – it acts on your kidneys to make you pee more fluid than you're taking in. Losing fluid from your body like this can lead to dehydration, which can cause headaches. So if you're prone to migraines, you might get one if you drink to excess.
The type of hangover you experience depends on a few factors, such as the amount you drink and how quickly you drink it. Drinking copious amounts quicker than your liver can process will almost certainly result in a hangover. Your diet also plays a role, as a full stomach can slow the absorption of alcohol. The other type of headache is the morning-after headache that occurs several hours after drinking has ceased and is usually part of the hangover. If you’re working with a medical professional to determine why you get headaches, it’s important to look at every possible trigger, including alcohol. However, it’s possible to have a migraine headache without having had a beer or a glass of wine.
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If you’ve identified alcohol as a trigger for your migraine headaches, avoiding it altogether is probably best. The same is true if you find that some types of alcohol trigger your migraine headaches more than others. Avoiding migraine triggers is one of the only sure-fire ways to avoid migraine symptoms. Early effects of alcohol can dull sensations and have an analgesic effect, but as alcohol leaves the body it can have the opposite effect and actually increase sensitivity to pain. Some studies have reported that alcohol can trigger a migraine headache in people who are sensitive to it in as little as 30 minutes — or it could take 3 hours.
Many studies in different countries show that alcohol is a headache trigger in high percentage of migraine subjects, both in the general population [15–17] and headache clinic population [18–22]. About one-third of the patients (mean 34%) report alcohol as a trigger (Fig. 1). However these are retrospective studies, and until recently only a prospective study based exclusively on the subjective patients information exists . Recent studies show that alcohol acts as a trigger at least occasionally in a percentage similar to that of the previous studies (37%), but as a frequent/consistent trigger in only 10% of the patients [22,24]. Curiously, in some countries, the percentages of alcohol or wine as migraine triggers were negligible, 6.1  and 1.4% , perhaps depending on the degree of alcohol habits. In addition to ethanol, alcoholic beverages contain other chemicals called congeners that create the specific flavors of each drink.
Why Does One Beer Give Me A Headache?
“Alcohol consumption is one of the most common dietary triggers for migraine sufferers,” says Dr. Sara Crystal, Cove Medical Director, noting that alcohol causes two specific types of headaches. Treatment for alcohol migraines remains largely the same as the treatment for alcohol headaches. However, it is a smart idea to reduce https://ecosoberhouse.com/article/alcohol-and-headaches-why-does-alcohol-cause-migraines/ your alcohol consumption if you regularly suffer from migraines to avoid triggering one. This type of alcohol headache is known as the ‘cocktail headache’ and comes on shortly after taking an alcoholic drink. This type of headache is less common, but many people may notice the symptoms developing within 3 hours of drinking.
Recently another study group reported a high percentage of patients referring red wine as the most frequent trigger between alcoholic drinks  but subsequently it did not report any of them as a trigger . Since alcohol can trigger migraine and tension headache attack, only a low percentage of headache patients should drink alcoholic beverages. Few and often only descriptive studies exist on this topic, with marked differences in the percentage of consumers perhaps depending on the country habits [19, 24, 26, 31–33] (Table 2).
Headaches Can Happen After Small Amounts of Alcohol
However, two conclusive negative studies were found on the relation between oral tyramine and headache attack in dietary and nondietary migraine. No differences exist between migraine and tension headache in the frequency of alcohol as a trigger [17, 18, 20, 24–26, 29] (Table 1). Other studies show that only migraineurs had episodes of tension-type headache precipitated by alcohol [19,27].
Wine (more red than white) and other grape products have been shown to have an endothelium-dependent vaso-relaxing activity, probably via nitric oxide (NO)-mediated pathway; ethanol and resveratrol cause no relaxation . Alcohol-free red wine polyphenol extract increases endothelial NO release . However in vivo studies show that only the ingestion of red wine with alcohol, but not of dealcoholized red wine, provokes arterial dilatation and thus the effect of wine is due to ethanol . Also oral intake of pure alcohol (at a dose corresponding to a two drink equivalent) produces significant vasodilatation in man . The relation between tyramine and migraine has been studied most extensively. Half were pioneering studies performed by Hanington et al. (see ) which showed that oral tyramine provoked headaches in dietary migraine patients but not in nondietary migraine or controls.
Because we use the overarching term “alcohol” to describe different alcoholic beverages, it’s easy to forget that each type of alcohol has its own ingredients, and people react to those ingredients differently. Tannins are naturally occurring compounds (called polyphenols) found in grapes, certain fruit juices, and beer. People who suffer with cluster headaches are particularly sensitive to dark beers, according to Dr. Aurora. June is National Migraine and Headache Awareness Month (MHAM), which is a great opportunity for communities to spread awareness about suffering from headaches and migraine. So with that goal in mind, we spoke to a number of physicians specializing in headache and migraine treatment as well as addiction medicine to find out exactly why drinking may trigger a headache.
While not a disease we treat at the Johns Hopkins Headache Center, delayed alcohol-induced headaches are extremely common, disabling and costly to society. However, a headache after drinking will usually resolve itself over time. Avoiding drinking is the best way to prevent an alcohol-related headache. Males should aim to drink two or fewer drinks daily, and females should aim to drink one or fewer. Migraine typically begins slowly and may increase in severity if left untreated.
Why Do I Get a Headache After Drinking a Small Amount of Alcohol?
To that end, there are a couple of steps you’ll want to take immediately if you’ve got a pounding headache after drinking. If you’re up and moving around a lot, you may exacerbate a cocktail headache. This may partially explain why you wake up with a pounding headache after a night of drinking and dancing. If you’re sensitive to one or more of these, you may get a pounding headache after only a small amount of beer.
People prone to migraines tend to have more problems with hangovers. People who drink alcohol regularly, or those who are taking certain specific medications that affect liver enzymes, may metabolize alcohol more quickly, having fewer problems with intoxication and hangover as a result. Conversely, there are many medications that interfere with the breakdown of alcohol and acetaldehyde, worsening the consequences of drinking. A thin, Japanese teetotaling woman taking prescription painkillers will clearly have more problems with a few drinks than a 250 pound linebacker who regularly drinks four beers a night.
Can alcohol trigger a migraine?
As more and more ethanol molecules enter the membranes of the nerve cells, sedating effects develop. The effects of alcohol intoxication are relatively predictable based on measured blood alcohol content. 2021 research also linked lifestyle factors with alcohol drinking and smoking to cluster headaches and their severity. If you aren’t sure that alcohol is to blame for your headaches, try keeping a diary. Each time you drink, write down the type of alcohol you have, the amount, and if and when you had a migraine. Include how you felt the prior 48 hours as well as any stress or anxiety you were under at the time.