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Alcohol and Health

Can Alcohol Cause Migraines?

Published:
June 23, 2023
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8 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
June 23, 2023
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8 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
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Alcohol can be a real conundrum for those of us who get migraines. Perhaps you've experienced that splitting headache after a night of indulgence. Let's delve into the world of migraine research and explore how alcohol might be a contributing factor.

What's Brewing With Migraines and Alcohol?

When we think about migraines, we often picture intense, throbbing headaches. But migraines are often accompanied by a whole carnival of symptoms — including nausea, sensitivity to light and sound, and sometimes visual disturbances known as “auras.”

What happens when alcohol enters the equation? We're all familiar with the infamous “hangover headache,” but can alcohol cause migraines? And what’s the connection between cocktails and headaches?

In a word: yes. Research studies have shown that alcohol can, indeed, act as a migraine trigger for some people. But why does this happen? The answer lies in the way alcohol interacts with our bodies.

The Alcohol Migraine Connection

A growing body of scientific research suggests a possible connection between alcohol consumption and migraines. A 2018 study found that alcohol was reported to be a trigger in 35.6% of migraine patients. However, the relationship between alcohol and migraines is complex, involving several scientific theories.

First off, alcohol is a diuretic: it encourages our kidneys to produce more urine, leading to dehydration. Since dehydration is a well-known trigger for migraines, it's no surprise that our beloved drinks can push us towards a throbbing headache.

Moreover, alcohol can cause blood vessels in our brain to expand, a process called vasodilation. This change in the body's internal roadways can trigger migraines in some people.

But the story doesn't end there. Alcohol — especially dark drinks such as red wine and whiskey — contain chemicals known as congeners, which can set off migraines for some of us.

Finally, alcohol affects our sleep patterns. Even though a couple of drinks might make us feel sleepy, they actually disrupt our sleep cycle, causing poor sleep quality over the course of the night. Our brains don't appreciate this, and they often retaliate with a migraine.

Diagram about how to handle migraines

Alcohol and Migraine: Trigger, Not a Cause

It's important to distinguish between a “cause” and a “trigger.” The cause of migraines is multifaceted, often involving genetic factors and imbalances in brain chemicals. Alcohol is not a “cause” of migraines per se, but it can be a “trigger” for migraine attacks in those of us prone to them for other reasons.

The Red Wine Myth

Red wine is widely believed to be a major offender. However, research has demonstrated that all types of alcoholic beverages can trigger migraines. A study in the European Journal of Neurology found that while red wine was the most frequently reported trigger, other alcoholic drinks were not far behind.

Individual Variability

It's essential to note that everyone's experience with alcohol and migraines is unique. Some of us may have a migraine episode after just a single glass of champagne, while others may not experience any adverse effects even after consuming multiple drinks. This variability is attributed to our individual genetic makeup, lifestyle factors, and the type of alcohol consumed.

The Alcohol Withdrawal Effect

For those of us who are frequent drinkers and are considering quitting, it's important to understand that alcohol withdrawal may trigger migraines, too. This is because our brain has adapted to the regular presence of alcohol and reacts to its absence. This is only a factor until our brain becomes accustomed to life without alcohol, so don’t let this deter you from quitting, if that’s your goal.

Taking Action

So, what can we do about the migraine-alcohol connection? Here are some specific action steps for those of us considering cutting back on or quitting alcohol.

  • Track your triggers. Start by keeping a headache diary. Note when you get a migraine, its severity, and what you were doing or consuming before the migraine started.
  • Stay hydrated. Since alcohol can cause dehydration, it's essential to drink water while consuming alcoholic beverages. One handy trick is to have a glass of water for every alcoholic drink.
  • Choose your drinks wisely. Lighter drinks contain fewer congeners, which may lead to fewer migraines. If you notice red wine or whiskey gives you migraines, consider switching to a drink that’s lighter in color, such as white wine or vodka.
  • Prioritize quality sleep. As alcohol can disrupt sleep, try to avoid drinking close to bedtime. Establishing a regular sleep schedule and creating a restful environment can also help avoid alcohol-induced migraines.
  • Reduce gradually. If you’re a regular drinker, abrupt cessation might trigger migraines due to withdrawal. Reduce your intake gradually to prevent this.
  • Consult a healthcare professional. They can provide guidance tailored to your unique health situation and can help manage any withdrawal symptoms.

Our Migraine-Free Future

Everyone’s journey towards a migraine-free future is unique. While it may seem like a tall order, armed with knowledge and determination, we can take a step towards it by managing our alcohol intake. Remember, alcohol is not the only potential trigger for migraines. A holistic lifestyle change, which includes balanced nutrition, regular exercise, and stress management, along with reducing alcohol consumption, can have a profound impact on our overall well-being.

Alcohol can be a real conundrum for those of us who get migraines. Perhaps you've experienced that splitting headache after a night of indulgence. Let's delve into the world of migraine research and explore how alcohol might be a contributing factor.

What's Brewing With Migraines and Alcohol?

When we think about migraines, we often picture intense, throbbing headaches. But migraines are often accompanied by a whole carnival of symptoms — including nausea, sensitivity to light and sound, and sometimes visual disturbances known as “auras.”

What happens when alcohol enters the equation? We're all familiar with the infamous “hangover headache,” but can alcohol cause migraines? And what’s the connection between cocktails and headaches?

In a word: yes. Research studies have shown that alcohol can, indeed, act as a migraine trigger for some people. But why does this happen? The answer lies in the way alcohol interacts with our bodies.

The Alcohol Migraine Connection

A growing body of scientific research suggests a possible connection between alcohol consumption and migraines. A 2018 study found that alcohol was reported to be a trigger in 35.6% of migraine patients. However, the relationship between alcohol and migraines is complex, involving several scientific theories.

First off, alcohol is a diuretic: it encourages our kidneys to produce more urine, leading to dehydration. Since dehydration is a well-known trigger for migraines, it's no surprise that our beloved drinks can push us towards a throbbing headache.

Moreover, alcohol can cause blood vessels in our brain to expand, a process called vasodilation. This change in the body's internal roadways can trigger migraines in some people.

But the story doesn't end there. Alcohol — especially dark drinks such as red wine and whiskey — contain chemicals known as congeners, which can set off migraines for some of us.

Finally, alcohol affects our sleep patterns. Even though a couple of drinks might make us feel sleepy, they actually disrupt our sleep cycle, causing poor sleep quality over the course of the night. Our brains don't appreciate this, and they often retaliate with a migraine.

Diagram about how to handle migraines

Alcohol and Migraine: Trigger, Not a Cause

It's important to distinguish between a “cause” and a “trigger.” The cause of migraines is multifaceted, often involving genetic factors and imbalances in brain chemicals. Alcohol is not a “cause” of migraines per se, but it can be a “trigger” for migraine attacks in those of us prone to them for other reasons.

The Red Wine Myth

Red wine is widely believed to be a major offender. However, research has demonstrated that all types of alcoholic beverages can trigger migraines. A study in the European Journal of Neurology found that while red wine was the most frequently reported trigger, other alcoholic drinks were not far behind.

Individual Variability

It's essential to note that everyone's experience with alcohol and migraines is unique. Some of us may have a migraine episode after just a single glass of champagne, while others may not experience any adverse effects even after consuming multiple drinks. This variability is attributed to our individual genetic makeup, lifestyle factors, and the type of alcohol consumed.

The Alcohol Withdrawal Effect

For those of us who are frequent drinkers and are considering quitting, it's important to understand that alcohol withdrawal may trigger migraines, too. This is because our brain has adapted to the regular presence of alcohol and reacts to its absence. This is only a factor until our brain becomes accustomed to life without alcohol, so don’t let this deter you from quitting, if that’s your goal.

Taking Action

So, what can we do about the migraine-alcohol connection? Here are some specific action steps for those of us considering cutting back on or quitting alcohol.

  • Track your triggers. Start by keeping a headache diary. Note when you get a migraine, its severity, and what you were doing or consuming before the migraine started.
  • Stay hydrated. Since alcohol can cause dehydration, it's essential to drink water while consuming alcoholic beverages. One handy trick is to have a glass of water for every alcoholic drink.
  • Choose your drinks wisely. Lighter drinks contain fewer congeners, which may lead to fewer migraines. If you notice red wine or whiskey gives you migraines, consider switching to a drink that’s lighter in color, such as white wine or vodka.
  • Prioritize quality sleep. As alcohol can disrupt sleep, try to avoid drinking close to bedtime. Establishing a regular sleep schedule and creating a restful environment can also help avoid alcohol-induced migraines.
  • Reduce gradually. If you’re a regular drinker, abrupt cessation might trigger migraines due to withdrawal. Reduce your intake gradually to prevent this.
  • Consult a healthcare professional. They can provide guidance tailored to your unique health situation and can help manage any withdrawal symptoms.

Our Migraine-Free Future

Everyone’s journey towards a migraine-free future is unique. While it may seem like a tall order, armed with knowledge and determination, we can take a step towards it by managing our alcohol intake. Remember, alcohol is not the only potential trigger for migraines. A holistic lifestyle change, which includes balanced nutrition, regular exercise, and stress management, along with reducing alcohol consumption, can have a profound impact on our overall well-being.

Say Goodbye to Alcohol-Related MIgraines With Reframe!

Ready to say goodbye to alcohol-induced migraines for good? The Reframe app can help! While we’re not a cure for alcohol use disorder (AUD), we can help you cut back on drinking gradually by using science-backed methods to empower you throughout your journey. Our program has helped millions of people just like you to drink less and live more!

The Reframe app gives you the tools and knowledge to cut back or quit drinking less in an intuitive, effective way. You’ll receive daily science-backed readings and will have access to our in-app Toolkit, filled with the resources and activities you need to navigate anything life throws at you.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today!

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