Alcohol and Headaches: Why They Happen and What You Can Do

Last Updated on February 3, 2021

If you’ve ever woken up the morning after with your head throbbing, you know alcohol can cause an awful headache. But why does this happen, and why is it worse for some people than others? Below, we’ll answer some commonly asked questions about alcohol and headaches, and how you can avoid them.

Why do I get a headache when I drink alcohol? 

man on street alcohol and headaches
Photo by Zach Rowlandson on Unsplash

Because your body views alcohol as a toxic substance, it’s perfectly normal to experience a headache from drinking alcohol. Alcohol’s effects on your body include dehydration, inflammation, reduced sleep quality, and the buildup of toxic substances—all of which can give you a headache.

Those who experience headaches from drinking generally fall into one of two categories:

  • People already prone to headaches, including regular migraines.
  • People who get hangovers (which is almost everyone who drinks).

Migraines 

Drinking too much can trigger migraines, and possibly other types of headaches—such as cluster headaches and tension headaches—in people who are already susceptible to these issues. Such headaches can occur while you are drinking, or a few hours after—even if you’ve had as little as one drink.

Hangovers 

One of the most common symptoms of a hangover is a headache. Hangovers occur when the alcohol levels in your blood drop significantly—frequently the morning after you drink. Hangovers can affect pretty much anyone who has had too much to drink.

What causes headaches after drinking alcohol?

Several factors contribute to alcohol-related headaches, including:

  • Dehydration: Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it can cause you to urinate more than normal, depleting the amount of water in your body.
  • Insomnia: While alcohol may help you fall asleep at first, it often disrupts your rest as the night wears on.
  • Acetaldehyde: This and other toxic compounds can build up in your body as your liver processes alcohol out of your system
  • Hormonal imbalances: This includes increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which can lead to increased tension—including headaches

Does drinking beer cause headaches?

Drinking any type of alcohol in excess, including beer, wine, or liquor, can cause headaches.

Red wine often gets the most blame, but beer can also have a significant impact. In fact, in one large survey on cluster headaches, beer was the most common culprit of all alcoholic drinks.

There is some evidence that certain distilled spirits may cause fewer headaches. This is because beer and wine often contain more toxic byproducts from fermentation, such as aldehydes. However, darker liquors may still contain a high level of headache-causing congeners. And the overall impact of the alcohol itself remains.

Will alcohol help a headache?

We often hear that a “hair of the dog,” meaning a drink the morning after, can help hangover symptoms—including the dreaded headache.

Having another drink may temporarily curb withdrawal symptoms and make you feel better. But unless you intend to keep drinking, the alcohol levels in your body will eventually drop, causing a headache anyway. And, of course, continuing to drink to avoid hangover symptoms can increase your risk of alcohol dependence in the long run.

In other words, the only real way out of a hangover is through. Drinking more alcohol will likely just prolong your symptoms.

What can I do to prevent a headache when I drink? 

There are several steps you can take to prevent a headache the next time you drink, including:

  • Drink a glass of water after every alcoholic beverage—this will keep you hydrated and likely slow you down.
  • Replenish your body with electrolytes and supplements like vitamin B, but avoid medicines containing acetaminophen.
  • Drink in moderation.

If you frequently suffer from alcohol-related headaches, and are struggling to cut back, there are also new solutions. Ria Health’s online program can help you cut back or quit without having to put your life on hold. Get access to anti-craving medications, regular coaching meetings, expert medical advice, digital tools, and more—all from an app on your smartphone.

Get in touch with a member of our team today, or learn more about how it works.

Written By:
The Ria Health Team
Our experienced team is committed to transforming alcohol addiction treatment.
Reviewed By:
Content Writer/Editor
Writer specializing in targeted, informative content. Dedicated to making the abstract accessible.

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