People who are likely to acquire headaches should identify the triggers as it is the important part of pain management. Alcohol is a common headache trigger. Therefore, even for those who don't already suffer from headaches, alcohol can cause headaches as a hangover effect.
Alcoholic drinks contain ethanol, which can contribute to headaches through various physical mechanisms. Headaches begin from blood vessel vasodilatation and ethanol can prompt these changes. In addition, ethanol is a diuretic and prompts the urinary loss of vitamins and minerals, as well as causing dehydration. Headaches may occur shortly following consumption of alcohol or the next morning, with the infamous hangover. Headaches that occur shortly after drinking tend to indicate specific alcohol sensitivity and are more likely to occur in people who already experience migraines or other such headaches.
Cluster headaches, in particular, can be triggered by alcohol. For some people, it is the precise type of alcoholic drink that causes a headache. A person may experience a headache from a single glass of wine or champagne, but find that he or she can drink several shots of vodka without suffering from a headache. Even with wines, some may find that a glass of white wine causes no problem yet red wine leaves them with an excruciating migraine. Red wine contains tyramine, which is a known migraine trigger, so avoidance of red wine may be necessary for some people.
Effects of a Hangover
A hangover is essentially a toxic reaction to alcohol and can even be considered food poisoning. Alcohol is a diuretic, thereby flushing fluids from your body, and will generally leave you quite dehydrated as well as contributing to a headache. Many of the impurities in addition to the alcohol itself can leave your stomach feeling upset and uncomfortable. Symptoms of a hangover include: headache, extreme thirst, nausea, vomiting, fatigue and diarrhea.
There are several things you can do to avoid a hangover and the subsequent headaches that occur, with complete elimination of alcohol being the obvious one. Other tips include: Hydrate yourself prior to drinking with either water or sports drinks; limit the amount of alcohol you consume to one or two drinks; avoid those types of drinks that trigger headaches, such as red wine, for example; and eat before you drink, with a focus on fatty foods like cheese. Fat takes the longest to digest of the macro-nutrients, and will help to slow the absorption of alcohol.
Painkillers for Headaches
Be extremely cautious the day after drinking if taking any painkillers for your headache, as the alcohol still in your system combined with painkillers such as acetaminophen can have dangerous effects. Be sure to drink water to combat the dehydration caused by the alcohol. Many people drink coffee the morning after drinking, but since coffee is also a diuretic, it may only increase your dehydration and further upset your stomach and intensify your headache.
You are the one to decide how much alcohol you can safely consume before you suffer from a headache. You may need to make note of which drinks seem to trigger your migraines or other headaches. If you are fortunate enough to normally be headache-free, taking a little extra care before, during and after drinking by eating a balanced meal, drinking sufficient fluids and avoiding excessive consumption can help prevent a hangover headache the next day. You can also take care to avoid certain types of drinks (i.e., sweet drinks and wines). With a little extra effort in looking after yourself, you should be able to enjoy a few drinks without suffering headaches, and your body will thank you the next day.