Headache After Drinking- Why and How to Get Rid of it?

A lovely, cozy new year or birthday party with friends, music, laughter, and cocktails are always a joyous experience as long as you don’t develop a headache the next day.

Do you wish to know more about the symptoms, causes, and cures for a hangover headache? Read on and expand your knowledge on the same.

What Is A Hangover Headache?

A hangover headache is a headache that occurs the next morning, after 5 – 12 years after alcohol intake; it is also called alcohol-induced headache and is pretty common. 

A hangover headache generally occurs on both sides of the head, and is located on the forehead and/or the temples. It is pulsating and feels like a drum beating on your head. The headache is usually worsened by physical activity, and that’s the reason why most people want to just relax on a couch while experiencing one. 

In some cases, a hangover headache can also trigger one’s underlying primary headache disorder. So, if you already have cluster headaches, tension, headaches, or migraine, alcohol consumption can induce your usual headache attack. 

This may make it crystal clear why people who suffer from any type of headache disorder are recommended to drink less or no alcohol at all. 

What Are The Types Of Hangover Headaches?

Hangover headaches (or alcohol-induced headaches) are of two types:

Immediate alcohol-induced headaches: As the name suggests, it happens when someone gets a headache within 30 minutes to 3 hours after alcohol consumption. Other symptoms include:

  • Most of the pain is felt in the forehead
  • Throbbing or pulsing head pain on both sides of the head
  • Physical activity worsens the pain
  • The headache goes away in 3 days

Delayed alcohol-induced headaches: Immediate hangover headaches are comparatively rare than delayed alcohol-induced headaches.

A delayed alcohol-induced headache starts after someone’s alcohol level in the bloodstream begins to decrease. Following are some symptoms of delayed alcohol-induced hangover headaches:

  • Most of the pain is felt in the forehead
  • Throbbing or pulsing head pain on both sides of the head
  • Physical activity worsens the pain
  • The headache goes away in 3 days

Drinking even a little amount of alcohol can trigger a headache or migraine in people with migraine. People who do not get migraines usually experience a headache when consuming a large amount of alcohol.

How Alcohol Consumption Leads To Hangover Headaches?

There is some talk about whether ethanol in alcoholic beverages leads to a hangover headache or other chemicals in the drink. Some studies found that white wine or red wine is more likely to induce a headache than vodka.

Still, others have found that beer or sparkling wine initiated migraines and headaches.

Some of the chemicals in these alcoholic drinks that are believed to trigger headaches after drinking include:

  • Tyramine
  • Histamine
  • Phenylethylamine
  • Flavonoid phenols
  • Sulfites

Most of these chemicals are also present in foods that may cause migraines. For example, histamines and tyramines are found in aged cheeses and processed meats.

Flavonoid phenols and tannins are present in higher levels in dark-coloured drinks, including whiskey and brandy than in light-coloured drinks like vodka or gin.

Some studies indicate that dark-coloured drinks can induce migraine or cause worse hangover headaches than light-coloured drinks. 

These researches made some doctors believe that these other chemicals, not alcohol, provoke migraines and headaches.

How Little Alcohol Can Cause A Headache?

You may believe a single glass of wine is not enough to cause a hangover headache, but this isn’t always true.

You may notice that one day you can drink plenty of alcohol and not encounter a headache at all, but another day just a few glasses of the same drink will leave you with a drumming head.

There are various factors at play that will decide how much alcohol is enough. These may include the following:

  • The quality of the alcohol
  • The type of alcohol you are drinking
  • How hydrated you are
  • Your current general health

Can You Reduce Your Odds For A Hangover Headache?

Of course, there is a way. You can reduce the odds of having an alcohol-induced headache by avoiding alcohol completely. However, we understand that this isn’t always possible.

So, is there any other way to reduce your chances of getting a headache after drinking? 

Cutting down slowly might eradicate any unpleasant withdrawal symptoms and get you into a new way of life.

At the same time, there are steps that you can follow to mitigate your odds of suffering a headache after drinking. These steps include:

Know your triggers: Take a pen and piece of paper and jot down any trigger which leads to a headache. Making a note of what you drink and which days you encounter a headache will let you know what drinks and circumstances lead to more problems for you.

Once you get to know what your triggers are, avoid them to see if it works.

  • Slow your pace: Drink alcohol at a slower rate. You can also have a glass of water between two drinks to ensure that you remain hydrated. 
  • Sweeten up: Having some honey before drinking can help minimize your odds of getting a headache drinking due to high levels of vitamin B6 in honey. 
  • Drink on a full stomach: Make sure that you are drinking alcohol on a full stomach as this can delay how quickly your body is able to absorb the chemicals and so decelerate the effects.

Also Read: 10 Types Of Headaches And Their Remedies

Possible Cures For Hangover Headaches

Following are some remedies that can help cure hangover headaches:

  • Vitamin B6: Vitamin B6 is a vital nutrient that’s found in all types of common foods, including potatoes, poultry, and fruit. Alcohol minimizes your B vitamins levels, making it difficult for your body to metabolize and eradicate alcohol. Having additional B6 with a hearty meal or taking a health supplement could help your body delay alcohol faster. This might help you avoid or cure a hangover headache, whether you take B6 before or after drinking.
  • NSAIDs (Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs): It can help decrease inflammation in your body caused by drinking. NSAIDs inhibit the production of enzymes that cause headaches and migraines. Just do not exceed the recommended doses. Combined with alcohol, NSAIDs can raise your risk of stomach bleeding. Do not take acetaminophen (Tylenol) when you drink or when you have a hangover. Acetaminophen makes it challenging for your body to process alcohol and can cause damage to your liver. Your liver is already working more to get rid of excess alcohol from your body. Excessive amounts of Tylenol – over 4,000 mg in a 24-hour period – while hungover can cause serious liver swelling or liver failure.
  • Light Exercise: Generally, exercising the day after drinking isn’t advised. However, light exercise can help your body speed along with its metabolic processes, clearing your body of alcohol and associated toxins more swiftly. Just ensure you stay hydrated as your body is already combating the implications of dehydration while you are hungover.
  • Fitness Drinks: Hydration is just before and during drinking as alcohol can dehydrate you and exhaust your body of electrolytes. Having a beverage that’s loaded with additional electrolytes can help you retrieve your electrolyte balance and stay hydrated. Remember not to overdo it. Certain drinks can contain about 36 grams of sugar for a 20-ounce serving. This excessive amount of sugar can worsen your hangover symptoms.
  • N-acetyl-cysteine: It is a natural amino acid that helps your body combat the adverse effects of acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is a chemical compound related to several hangover symptoms, including headaches. As acetaldehyde levels increase, your glutathione levels drop. Glutathione is a naturally-occurring antioxidant that helps prevent cell damage in your liver. Take 200 – 300 mg of an NAC supplement at least 30 minutes before you start drinking. This can minimize the effect of acetaldehyde on your liver and improve headaches after drinking. 

When To Consult A Doctor?

Having excessive amounts of alcohol at one time can lead to alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poisoning, if left untreated, may cause you to develop long-term effects and even death. Dial 911 if someone you are drinking with experiences any of the following symptoms:

  • skin changing its color to dark blue or purple
  • feeling confused
  • throwing up
  • seizures
  • chills
  • breathing slowing down (inhaling and exhaling fewer than eight times per minute)
  • getting unconscious and being unable to wake up
  • pausing between breaths (10 or more seconds)

If you find that you cannot limit how much you drink or stop yourself from drinking, even if it’s leading to physical or emotional pain, you may require to seek treatment for alcoholism. 

Conclusion

To avoid a headache after drinking, you should drink in moderation. Also, slow your pace while drinking. Try sipping in place of pounding or gulping shots. 

If you are planning to drink, make sure you consider the preventive measures to minimize the possibility of getting a headache after drinking. 

But if you already developed a headache, you can try one or more ways mentioned in the post to cure hangover headaches to see what works for you. Begin with eating healthy foods and lots of water before, during, and after drinking.

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Janet Fudge

Janet Fudge writes on general health topics for CheapMedicineShop.com. She holds a post-graduate diploma in Public Health with a major in epidemiology. During the outbreak of COVID-19, Janet actively volunteered in vaccination drives throughout the state of Iowa. She lives in Iowa with her husband and two children.