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Why Alcohol Causes Headaches

Liquor Bottles at a Bar

Whether you enjoy a glass of wine at the end of the day, a few beers during the game, or craft cocktails to celebrate something special, alcohol has a profound impact on the body. Although you may feel great while sipping your favorite beverage, the headache that forms under the surface can be excruciating.

How Alcohol Affects the Body

Alcohol affects the body in many ways, both physically and mentally. It affects the way the brain works and communicates with other parts of the body, which can impact cognitive abilities and coordination. If too much is consumed at once or over a long period of time, it can cause heart problems, like high blood pressure and irregular heartbeat, and take a toll on liver functioning. Alcohol has also been linked to increased risks of cancer, a weaker immune system, and pancreas problems that interfere with digestion.

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Since most alcoholic beverages contain a substantial number of calories and grams of sugar, it can also contribute to an expanding waistline and hinder the ability to lose weight. But one of the most common ways that alcohol affects the body is headaches, and it only takes a little too much to wake up with one the next morning.

The Connection between Alcohol & Headaches

The alcohol contained in liquor, wine, and beer contains ethanol, which is a known cause of headaches. Ethanol is a direct vasodilator, which causes headaches in some people, but it’s also a natural diuretic. This means that alcohol stimulates the body to excrete vitamins, minerals, and salt through the kidneys, which could lead to dehydration and chemical imbalances. Dehydration represents an imbalance of bodily fluids and nutrients in the body, affecting blood flow and pressure to the brain. This is also a common cause of headaches.

The ethanol contained in alcoholic beverages is also combined with other ingredients to improve its taste. These ingredients can contribute to the formation of headaches as well, especially when mixers may contain artificial sugars and sweeteners. Dark liquors are notorious for producing the most severe hangover headaches. Someone prone to migraines or cluster headaches may be more sensitive to the effects of alcohol, even in small amounts.

Symptoms of Hangover Headaches

Hangover headaches feel very different from other types of headaches, and not one that is easily forgotten. These types of headaches are typically present along the forehead, at the temples, and on both sides of the head. This is a headache that pulsates and often becomes worse with physical activity.

After drinking alcohol, a headache can set in right away or take many hours to form. Along with headaches, hangovers often produce other symptoms, including fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, and loss of appetite.

How to Relieve Alcohol-Related Headaches

There are a few tried-and-true hangover cures that some people swear by, but everyone’s headache lasts for a different length of time and varies in severity. This is largely due to age, weight, gender, tolerance for alcohol, types of beverages consumed, and whether different types of alcohol were mixed.

Powerful over-the-counter pain relievers, like Vanquish, can relieve alcohol-related headaches quickly and effectively. However, be aware that prolonged use of painkillers is not recommended for heavy drinkers due to the risk of liver damage.

With an alcohol-related headache, rest is recommended, avoid smoking, eat nutrient-rich foods, and limit strenuous physical activity. But the best preventative measure is to consume alcohol responsibly and limit intake to avoid the feeling of a hangover headache at all.

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