Sensitivity to specific ingredients in alcohol, body weight, or genetic factors may cause headaches in some people after drinking alcohol.
Some individuals experience headaches or migraine after consuming alcohol. In some cases, alcohol can cause these effects, but certain additives may also be at play.
This article will explore the relationship between alcohol and headache and consider why some people develop an alcohol headache after one drink.
We also examine the types of headache alcohol can trigger and the types of alcohol likely to cause more headaches. Finally, we look at ways to avoid headaches after drinking.
A note about sex and gender
Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.
Meanwhile, 2020 research showed that 95% of participants experienced alcohol-induced headaches.
While there is some research on each possible reason why alcohol causes headaches, study authors have not definitively proven the link between the two.
Sensitivity to specific ingredients in alcohol
Alcoholic beverages include a chemical known as ethanol. This chemical is a vasodilator, which increases the size of blood vessels in the body.
Vasodilation may trigger migraine attacks in certain individuals. This is especially true for people prone to headaches or migraine without alcohol.
Chemicals called congeners are also a component of alcoholic drinks. These chemicals may also trigger migraine headaches in certain people.
Ethnicity and genetic predisposition
Individuals from different ethnic backgrounds may have variable sensitivity to alcohol.
Genes that play a role in opioid, serotonin, and dopamine systems also
Gender and body weight
For example, on average, females tend to weigh less than males. Individuals with lower body weights cannot process as much alcohol as individuals at higher weights.
As a result, a female’s blood alcohol concentration tends to be
Making sure to drink plenty of water during and after alcohol consumption can decrease the chance of headaches.
Those diagnosed with a specific type of headache may be more prone to develop a specific type of headache after consuming alcohol.
Alcohol seems to
More research will help to determine the effects of specific alcohol content on a person’s headaches.
- nasal congestion
- swelling of the face or forehead
These headaches can last between 15 minutes and 3 hours.
Migraine typically begins slowly and may increase in severity if left untreated. They involve throbbing pain that generally occurs on one side of the head. These headaches can last from a few hours to a few days.
A person may experience migraine after drinking if they are susceptible to it. Some people may experience an alcohol-related migraine between 30 minutes and 3 hours after drinking.
The tables below group alcohol types by the
|Type of alcohol||Alcohol content|
|Distilled spirits (rum, gin, vodka, whiskey, etc.)||40%|
|Brandy or cognac||40%|
|Cordials, liqueurs, and aperitifs||24%|
In general, clear beverages contain fewer congeners than darker.
The alcohol in the blood increases more quickly with liquor than with beer. For example, if a person drinks liquor before beer, they are likely to feel the effects of the alcohol sooner.
The table below looks at congener content by alcohol type.
|Type of alcohol||Congener content|
However, the research suggests that alcohol may not be the only trigger and may also depend on other factors.
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.
As dehydration can cause headaches, staying hydrated when consuming alcohol is key. Aim to drink plenty of water before, after, and during alcohol consumption.
Taking over-the-counter pain medications after drinking can increase stress on the liver or irritate the stomach lining. Individuals who consume alcohol should avoid such medications before or after drinking.
Research still needs to determine which remedy is most effective. However, a headache after drinking will usually resolve itself over time.
If a headache persists or worsens, visit a doctor for an examination and treatment recommendations.
Long-term alcohol use can lead to health conditions such as:
Drinking even a small amount of alcohol can trigger headache symptoms in certain individuals. These symptoms may begin within minutes or hours of drinking and vary widely in severity.
Certain additives can increase the chance of developing a headache after drinking. People prone to headaches may be at a higher risk of experiencing alcohol-related headaches.
Staying hydrated and keeping alcohol consumption to a minimum can decrease the chance of experiencing a headache. Individuals who experience severe headaches after drinking alcohol may also avoid alcohol altogether.
People can talk with their doctors about possible methods to prevent or ease alcohol-induced headaches.