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Does Alcoholism Cause Headaches? Here’s What You Need to Know

Alcoholism is a chronic disease defined by excessive alcohol consumption, despite negative consequences. Alcoholism can have significant effects on various aspects of health, including headaches.

In this article, you will learn:

  • How alcohol affects the body
  • The types of headaches caused by alcohol
  • How to manage alcohol-related headaches
  • The long-term effects of alcohol abuse

Why Does Drinking Cause Headaches? Understanding the Impact of Alcohol on the Body

Alcohol is the most widely abused substance in the United States. About 84% of adults report drinking at some point in their lifetime and 16.1 million report heavy alcohol abuse.[1] Unfortunately, alcohol is extremely harmful to your health, and it affects almost every organ in the body.

There are many reasons alcohol abuse can cause headaches. Some reasons include:

  • Dehydration: Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it increases urine production. This can lead to dehydration, a common trigger for headaches.[2]
  • Blood Vessel Expansion: Alcohol causes blood vessels to expand, which in turn leads to headaches.
  • Toxin Buildup: As the body breaks down the alcohol, it produces toxic byproducts, leading to headaches as the body struggles to process and eliminate them.
  • Sugar Levels: Alcohol consumption can cause low blood sugar and high blood sugar, both of which can trigger headaches.[3]

Types of Headaches Associated with Alcoholism

Different types of headaches can result from alcohol use, each with its own set of triggers. The most common types of headaches associated with alcoholism include:

  1. Hangover Headaches: Perhaps the most well-known, hangover headaches occur after heavy drinking and are usually paired alongside other symptoms like nausea, fatigue, and sensitivity to light and sound. Hangover headaches are primarily caused by dehydration, which is why it’s important to drink plenty of water when consuming alcohol.
  2. Migraines: Migraines are severe headaches often associated with throbbing pain, usually on one side of the head, and can be associated with nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound. Alcohol is a common trigger for an estimated one-third of people with migraines.[4]
  3. Cluster Headaches: Cluster headaches are extremely painful headaches that occur in cyclical patterns or clusters. Even small amounts of alcohol can trigger cluster headaches in people prone to them and they may find themselves needing to avoid alcohol.[5]
  4. Tension Headaches: Tension headaches are characterized by a dull, aching pain around the head and often result from stress, poor sleep, and muscle tension.
  5. Delayed Alcohol-Induced Headache (DAIH): DAIH often occurs several hours after drinking, while alcohol is leaving the body. This type of headache can occur even if only a small amount of alcohol is consumed.[6]

What Types of Alcoholic Drinks are Associated with Headaches?

The likelihood of experiencing a headache after alcohol consumption depends on the specific properties and ingredients as well as individual factors like personal sensitivity, overall health, hydration levels, and the presence of other triggers. However, some common alcoholic drinks associated with headaches include:

  • Red Wine: The high content of tannins, histamines, and sulfites found in red wine may trigger headaches or migraines in some individuals.
  • Beer: The histamine content, carbonation, and potential for dehydration associated with beer make it likely to cause headaches.
  • Champagne and Sparkling Wines: The carbonation can increase the rate of alcohol absorption, leading to headaches.
  • Sugary Cocktails: The high sugar content in certain cocktails can lead to rapid spikes and drops in blood sugar levels, resulting in headaches.

Long-Term Effects of Alcoholism and Headaches

Chronic alcohol abuse can lead to long-term changes in the brain and body that affect headache frequency and severity.[7] Some of these changes include:

  1. Brain Damage: Prolonged alcohol abuse can cause brain damage, resulting in chronic headaches.
  2. Liver Disease: Liver damage from chronic alcohol abuse can lead to a buildup of toxins in the blood, contributing to frequent headaches.
  3. Nutritional Deficiencies: Chronic alcoholics often suffer from nutritional deficiencies in Vitamin B1 and B12, resulting in headache disorders.
  4. Sleep Disorders: Alcohol disrupts normal sleep patterns, leading to poor quality sleep – a known trigger for tension headaches and migraines.

Managing Alcohol-Related Headaches

For those who experience headaches as a result of alcohol consumption, several strategies can help ease the effects, including:

  1. Hydration: Staying well-hydrated before, during, and after alcohol consumption can help prevent dehydration-related headaches.[8]
  2. Moderation: Limiting alcohol intake and avoiding binge drinking can reduce the risk of headaches.
  3. Nutritional Supplements: Ensuring adequate intake of vitamins and minerals, either through diet or supplements, can help prevent deficiencies that contribute to headaches.
  4. Medication: Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or aspirin, can help alleviate pain associated with hangover headaches.
  5. Professional Help: For those struggling with alcoholism, seeking professional help is crucial. Medical detox, counseling, and support groups can provide the necessary tools and support for overcoming alcohol addiction.

Find Help for Alcoholism Today

For anyone experiencing frequent headaches related to alcohol use, addressing the underlying problem is key. Through hydration, moderation, nutritional support, and professional treatment, it is possible to reduce the occurrence of alcohol-induced headaches and improve overall health and well-being. However, if you feel like your frequent alcohol-induced headaches are a sign of a bigger problem, it’s important to ask for help.

At Mandala Healing Center, we believe everyone can live a life free from addiction. Our team of professionals work alongside you to craft a program tailored to your needs so you can get back the life you deserve. If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol addiction, contact us today to learn more about our treatment options and how we can help.


  1. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA): Alcohol Use in the United States: Age Groups and Demographic Characteristics
  2. JAMA Network: Mechanism of Dehydration Following Alcohol Ingestion
  3. National Institute of Health (NIH): Blood Glucose Level, Alcohol Heavy Drinking and Alcohol Craving during Treatment for Alcohol Dependence
  4. The Journal of Head and Face Pain: Alcohol as a trigger of migraine attacks in people with migraine.
  5. The Journal of Head and Face Pain: Alcohol and Cluster Headaches
  6. American Academy of Neurology: Clinical characterization of delayed alcohol-induced headache
  7. National Institute of Health (NIH): Effects of Alcohol Consumption on Various Systems of the Human Body: A Systematic Review
  8. Johns Hopkins Medicine: Hangover Headache