Understanding Headaches Triggered by Alcohol Consumption

With millions of cases reported every year across the world, headaches seem to be as common as the common cold. One of the primary factors behind the occurrence of headaches is alcohol. Alcohol-induced headaches that cause throbbing pain does not go away easily and sometimes are chronic, indicating a migraine attack.

Quite a few people drink an alcoholic beverage such as wine, beer, whiskey or vodka as a way to combat day-to-day stress. As long as the drink is taken in moderation, it is not a cause for concern. However, if you are suffering from headaches immediately, or a couple of hours after taking alcohol, it cannot be ignored. You need to seriously reconsider the inclusion of alcohol in your diet.

Alcohol-induced Headaches

Headaches and Alcohol Intolerance

Experiencing frequent headaches following alcohol consumption is often an indication of alcohol intolerance. So, shortly after drinking alcohol, you may start experiencing headaches, followed by facial redness, stuffy or runny nose, and formation of red bumps on the skin. This is a genetic defect in which alcohol is not broken down by the liver, thereby causing an unpleasant reaction immediately after consuming alcohol. People with liver problems may also have headaches after intake of alcohol.

Also, if you are allergic to alcohol, the body releases histamines to counter the effects of the allergen (alcohol). During an allergic reaction, the production of histamines (an immune response) can also trigger headaches and other symptoms that are similar to those associated with alcohol intolerance.

Tyramine in Alcohol

Chronic headaches have also been attributed to the presence of tyramine in alcoholic beverages. Alcohol naturally contains tyramine, an amino acid that is notorious for causing headaches in people who are sensitive to this substance. Tyramine sensitivity or intolerance may trigger debilitating migraines after alcohol consumption. Even tyramine-rich foods need to be eaten with caution, as they too can trigger headaches.

The presence of congeners in alcohol can also cause headaches. The colour and odour of distilled alcoholic beverages has been attributed to congeners, chemicals that are produced during fermentation. People drinking alcoholic beverages that contain higher amounts of congeners may also suffer from headaches.

Alcohol and Dehydration

Alcohol displays diuretic properties, meaning, it eliminates excessive fluids from the body through urination. From various studies, it is evident that a person urinates an extra 100 ml of urine for intake of every 10 g of alcohol. No wonder, excessive urination after consuming alcoholic beverages is common, which may lead to dehydration. Dehydration causes depletion of electrolytes such as potassium and sodium. This imbalance of electrolyte levels can also cause headaches. Also, when the body gets dehydrated, the blood circulation to the brain temporarily slows down. In order to improve blood flow, the blood vessels in the brain dilate which may also cause and aggravate headaches.

Hangover and Alcohol

After a night of binge drinking, you are sure to have a hangover when you get up in the morning. The term ‘hangover’ refers to a group of side effects that occur after an episode of heavy drinking. Some of the common hangover symptoms include fatigue, headaches, muscle aches, and dizziness.

Cluster headaches have also been linked to the consumption of alcohol. However, cluster headaches may occur due to intake of specific alcoholic beverages. For instance, you may suffer from a headache after consuming a pint of whiskey, but never get a headache after downing two litres of beer. Some get a headache after having just 1 shot of vodka, but surprisingly are fine after consuming wine.


The treatment to deal with headaches following alcohol consumption will vary from person to person. For instance, those who get headaches immediately after consuming alcohol suffer from alcohol intolerance. In such circumstances, discarding alcohol from the diet is the only solution to prevent the symptoms of alcohol intolerance. Also, if you are sensitive to tyramine, completely avoiding alcohol is necessary to keep headaches at bay.

On the other hand, if headaches are occurring after drinking a particular alcoholic beverage, then you need to drink only those beverages that you are comfortable with. Those with hangover headaches should avoid drinking alcohol excessively. Drinking alcohol in moderation is the key to prevent a hangover. Adequate water intake throughout the day may help to ease the symptoms of hangover. Having fruits like apples, watermelon, and bananas may also help relieve hangover headaches.



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