Why does alcohol give you a headache? It’s a very commonly asked question, as for many, headaches are quite a common occurrence after a night of drinking – even if they’ve only consumed 1 or 2 alcoholic drinks. In this article, we delve into the science behind alcohol headaches.
What is Alcohol’s Impact on the Body?
Alcohol is what’s known as a diuretic, which means it causes the body to lose more fluid than it consumes, resulting in dehydration. This is why you can feel so thirsty after drinking alcoholic beverages. In addition to this, dehydration impacts the body’s natural salt and mineral levels, which can result in headaches. As the body digests and metabolises alcohol, a substance called acetaldehyde is created, which can also lead to sickness and headaches.
The impact that alcohol can have on the body is huge – which can not only be immediate or after consumption, but the effects can last short-term and even long-term. As a depressant, alcohol slows down the central nervous system resulting in sluggish speech and movement. It can also lead to risky behaviours and poor judgement. Digestion, skin, organs, muscles, bones and the cardiovascular system are also all affected – both in the short term and long term.
With the above information, it’s no surprise that every year in the UK, there are millions of hospital admissions related to alcohol consumption, and in 2020 alone, there were nearly 400,000 violent incidents where the offender was under the influence of alcohol.
Migraines and Alcohol: What’s The Link?
Yes. Alcohol not only has the ability to cause headaches, but it can also directly trigger migraines. Some drinks, such as red wine, have been linked to even more severe migraines, with some experts believing that this could be down to the fact that drinks like this often contain ingredients like histamines and sulfites.
While alcohol is a known contributor to migraines, it’s important to remember that not everyone will experience migraines from alcohol. The intensity of the headaches suffered, and the frequency of bouts will also vary from person to person. The headache pain could also be caused by an underlying health condition.
Why Does Alcohol Give You a Headache?
As mentioned, the main reason for headaches while drinking and headaches after drinking is dehydration and the production of acetaldehyde. However, there are also a few other factors that contribute to headaches from alcohol. One reason is that when someone consumes alcohol, it causes the blood vessels around the body to expand, resulting in an increased blood flow to the brain. For some people, this can lead to headaches.
Some alcoholic drinks are also made with an ingredient called congener which is a byproduct of fermentation. Whiskey, for example, has lots of congeners in it, and this has also been shown to result in headaches for some individuals.
There is also the fact that when drinking alcohol, some people don’t drink water as much. They may stay up later, listen to louder music and eat unhealthy and greasy foods. These can all trigger headaches and migraines in certain individuals.
Are Certain Drinks More Likely to Give You a Headache?
Yes, studies have been carried out that show that different types of alcoholic drinks can have different effects when it comes to the severity of headaches. For example, red wine is one of the most common causes of migraines. It’s also been found that darker drinks like whiskey have more congeners in them which we know causes headaches, compared to clean spirits like gin or vodka.
It’s also important to remember that some people may be sensitive to certain ingredients and additives, which might increase the risk of suffering from a headache after drinking.
Tips for Preventing and Managing Headaches from Alcohol
If you find that you are suffering from headaches after drinking, the following advice could help you to manage your pain and prevent the headache from appearing again:
- Stay hydrated – We know that dehydration is a key factor in alcohol headaches, so keeping hydrated with water and soft drinks before you start drinking alcohol, as well as during and after, will help you to stay hydrated and hopefully reduce the risk of headaches.
- Limit intake – The more alcohol consumed, the more chance someone will experience a severe headache. For this reason, it’s wise to know your limits and avoid drinking excessively.
- Choose clean spirits – If you do think you’re prone to headaches, then you could try sticking to lighter spirits like gin or vodka, which are known to have fewer headache-inducing congeners.
- Eat a healthy diet – Certain foods can also trigger headaches, so be wary of what you eat before, during and after alcohol consumption. This includes fast food, sugary treats and fried snacks. Instead, opt for healthy and nutritious meals.
- Take non-prescription painkillers – There are over-the-counter pain relievers available, but be sure to check they are safe to mix with alcohol. Before taking any medication with alcohol, you should always consult a medical professional first.
While alcohol is known to cause headaches the day after alcohol consumption, it’s also important to be aware of any triggers and additional symptoms that you experience. What’s more, understanding the underlying cause of your headache when drinking and taking necessary steps to prevent headaches while drinking from occurring can really make a difference.
If you do feel like you need support regarding your alcohol intake, there is no shame in asking for help. Reach out today, and our friendly and understanding team will take you through the available treatment options for alcohol dependency.
Posted on Friday, September 1st, 2023 at 12:21 pm in Alcoholism.