Alcohol can be a trigger for some people living with migraine. Learn what researchers say about determining your risk and managing your symptoms if you choose to drink alcohol.
Studies show that many people with migraine choose not to drink alcohol for fear that it may trigger a migraine attack. However, researchers aren’t clear on exactly how or why alcohol can impact migraine. There is even some debate about whether alcohol itself or another chemical component in alcoholic drinks acts as the trigger. This uncertainty makes it difficult for many people who want to responsibly enjoy alcohol during the holidays or on special occasions to effectively manage their migraine symptoms.
There are two types of headaches that may occur when alcohol is consumed: migraine attacks and delayed alcohol-induced headache (DAIH), also known as a hangover headache. Below, we break down what research says about the effect of alcohol on migraine, how this differs from DAIH and what you can do to help manage migraine if you’re planning to consume alcohol.
Can alcohol give you a migraine attack?
The short answer is that while it’s possible for alcohol to cause a migraine attack, it’s often a bit more complicated. In some studies, about one-third of people living with migraine reported alcohol as a migraine trigger (at least occasionally). In these retrospective studies, only 10% reported a frequent link.
In a 2007 study, Austrian researchers examined a number of factors related to migraine, specifically considering consumption of alcohol and other nutritional factors the day before the onset of a headache. They found limited importance of nutrition, including alcohol intake, in the triggering of migraine.
This data suggests that there may be a misperception that drinks containing alcohol cause migraine attacks. Still, in population-based studies in various countries, including the U.S., Japan and Italy, researchers found that fewer people with migraine consume alcohol than those without migraine. This indicates that people with migraine and other headache diseases may be more likely to give up alcohol because they perceive it as a possible migraine trigger.
Alcohol-Induced Migraine vs. Delayed Alcohol-Induced Headache
Alcohol can trigger a migraine attack within 30 minutes to three hours of consumption. This is the typical alcohol-induced headache. Another common type of headache associated with drinking alcohol is the delayed alcohol-induced headache (DAIH). This is the “hangover” headache typically experienced the morning after alcohol consumption.
The difference between these two types of headaches is subtle. While anyone can experience DAIH, people with migraine are more susceptible. Even a modest amount of alcohol can cause people with migraine to develop a delayed headache or trigger an attack.
Should people with migraine avoid alcohol?
If alcohol is a confirmed trigger for your migraine, then avoiding alcohol is the best solution. If you’re unsure whether alcohol is triggering your migraine, keep a detailed migraine journal that includes any foods and alcohol consumed throughout the week. This will be a valuable resource for you and your doctor to start identifying more specific migraine triggers.
If you are consuming alcohol, please drink responsibly. This includes being careful about the amount of alcohol you consume and paying attention to how and when your migraine symptoms flare up in relation to drinking.
There is no way to completely prevent alcohol from triggering migraine, but monitoring your intake can help minimize the impact of certain triggers. Some ways you can reduce the impact of alcohol on your migraine and the possibility of alcohol-induced headaches include:
- Drinking in moderation—2 drinks or fewer in a day for men and 1 drink or fewer in a day for women
- Having an accountability partner to keep an eye on your intake
- Holding a glass of water or other non-alcoholic beverage to avoid social pressure
- Sipping slowly
- Keeping hydrated
Keep a record of any symptoms that occur after consuming alcohol and discuss them with your doctor. Identifying your specific food and drink triggers is a key part of any migraine prevention and treatment plan.
Is alcohol or another component of the drink the trigger?
Researchers don’t know exactly what causes alcohol-induced migraine attacks. While in some cases it is likely the presence of alcohol itself, it is also possible that specific components of different alcoholic drinks act as triggers. Much like food triggers for migraine, people may have a higher sensitivity to certain organic components commonly found in alcoholic drinks.
Whether alcohol acts as a trigger is really a case-by-case basis for people with migraine. For some people, it could be the amount of alcohol consumed that triggers an attack. Other times, it could be the type of alcohol. For example, wine may be a trigger for some but whiskey may not have an influence. However, if you still experience a migraine attack after drinking any kind of alcohol, the best solution is to avoid alcohol altogether.
Always drink responsibly—which includes minimizing the chances that alcohol will affect your migraine. If alcohol is a trigger, it should be avoided entirely. Current medical opinions on alcohol consumption are evolving with research, so it’s important to educate yourself on the effects of alcohol on your health. If you are struggling with alcohol abuse or other dependency issues, there are many resources that are ready to help.
The American Migraine Foundation is committed to improving the lives of those living with this debilitating disease. To learn more about all of your migraine treatment options, visit the AMF Resource Library. For help finding a healthcare provider, check out our Find a Doctor tool. Together, we are as relentless as migraine.