Drinking and Headaches: Why and How

By James Madeiros


What would it be like to live in a world where drinking didn’t give you a headache? For early risers who enjoy a late-night cocktail, it might sound like heaven.

Here in the real world, though, headaches are a common and tragic result of one too many the night before. Like G.I. Joe once said, though, “Knowing is half the battle,” and a little understanding of why and how alcohol causes headaches can go a long way.

Headaches caused by alcohol have two primary origins: 1) impurities in the booze occurring in the fermentation process and 2) its dehydrating effect on the body upon consumption.

The impurities in booze that can cause headaches, particularly “dark” drinks like red wine, sherry, brandy, bourbon and beer, are legion. Among the worst offenders are tyramine, histamines, congeners and ethanol, which all act to rob the body of nutrients – notably essential sugars.

Dehydration can cause headaches as well, and alcohol is a diuretic that drains your body of fluid even as you pour it in. Ever notice how your frequency to the bathroom increases as you drink? It’s not just you – it’s everybody. The problem, aside from more standing in line, is that your body has a tendency to suck the water out of your brain to make up for the deficiency, which can leave you with a skull-crushing headache.

There’s no real way to avoid dehydration other than to compensate for the loss by drinking water, but people’s sensitivity to alcohol’s impurities varies. Some people are just more susceptible to headaches thanks to their genes, and if you’re one of these unfortunate few … walk softly, and carry a big bottle of aspirin.


Of course, I should remind everyone that our blog entries are for your information only and are not intended as medical advice. Because everyone is different, you should work with your medical professional to determine what’s best for you. If you’re going to drink, do it legally and responsibly; don’t be stupid =).


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