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Why Do I Get a Headache After Drinking A Small Amount Of Alcohol?

Why Do I Get a Headache After Drinking a Small Amount of Alcohol

Last Updated on February 24, 2024 by Lydia Martin

Have you ever experienced drinking only a small amount of alcohol but started to feel a headache or migraine? 

You are not alone—many are suffering from an alcohol-induced headache. But why do I get a headache after drinking a small amount of alcohol? 

Alcohol is a common trigger for tension headaches, but let’s find out why. Read on.

6 Reasons of Why Do I Get a Headache After Drinking A Small Amount Of Alcohol?

man drinking whiskey

6. Contains Congeners 

Some scientific studies show that toxic chemicals, like congeners, found in alcoholic beverages might be the culprit in hangover headaches, even in small amounts.

Congeners are substances found in ethanol after the alcohol fermentation and distillation process. [1]

It plays a big part in the flavor of the alcohol, but it can also give you a headache.

Congeners are commonly found in more significant amounts in darker-colored liquors like whiskey, bourbon, red wine, and brandy.

5. Elevates Blood Pressure

checking blood pressure

Drinking alcohol can relax your blood vessels. But unfortunately, consuming liquor can lead to more blood flowing to your brain, which could result in higher blood pressure.

When your blood pressure increases, it might cause a hypertensive crisis that could trigger migraines and tension headaches.

So, if you have high blood pressure, avoid consuming liquor because you’re prone to migraine or tension headaches.

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4. Triggers Inflammation

It might depend on how much alcohol you intake, but any type of alcohol-related drink could trigger inflammation.

Alcohol consumption can increase inflammation in some organs, like the heart and brain.

The symptoms could be reddening of the skin (Asian flush), swelling, or a chronic migraine attack.

But the effects of inflammation could manifest differently in each person depending on body weight and gender.

You can drink water in between alcohol intakes to prevent inflammation.

3. Contains Ethanol

Aside from water, alcoholic drinks are mainly composed of ethanol. Ethanol is a trigger and aggravating factor in migraines, even in a small amount.

Red wine is classified as a dominant trigger of cluster headaches and migraine attacks, while champagne, white wine, and other sparkling wines are also linked to migraine headaches.

2. Glutamate Rebound 

woman drinking alcohol

Scientific evidence shows that alcohol use suppresses glutamate activity in the brain, which our body tries to neutralize by increasing glutamate production. 

This glutamate production creates fatigue and can cause a headache trigger. It could also lead to nausea and increased blood pressure.

1. Triggers A Peptide Release

Just a small amount of alcoholic drink can trigger a peptide release from our body. Some peptides are strings of amino acids that help build blocks of proteins in our body. 

It promotes wound healing, reduces inflammation, and could help to fight bacteria.

However, the release could also trigger regular migraines and an immediate headache.

2 Types of Headaches You Might Feel After Drinking 

woman suffering from headache

1. 30 Minutes To 3 Hours Migraine

The first type of headache you might experience is a “cocktail headache” or the “immediate alcohol-induced headache.” It might develop in the first three hours of taking alcohol.

“If the headache would only precede the intoxication, alcoholism would be a virtue.”

Samuel Butler, Novelist 

Did you know? You can avoid alcohol-related headaches by eating before consuming any type of alcohol or just being dehydrated with water.

Cocktail headaches come with a pulsating sensation or throbbing pain, but these alcohol-induced headaches are less common.

2. Delayed Alcohol-Induced Headache (DAIH)

The DAIH is commonly known as the hangover headache, which might typically occur around 12 hours after drinking alcohol.

Many people prone to migraines tend to have more concerns with hangovers or this delayed alcohol-induced headaches. 


How do you prevent a headache when drinking?

Try to take a meal to prevent possible headaches before drinking alcohol. Having a meal keeps the alcohol in your stomach longer as it’s absorbed more slowly.

Also, take it slow when drinking an alcoholic beverage.

Instead of doing shots and gulping the alcohol, try sipping it, as it might lower the chance of getting a headache.

Is it normal to get a headache after one drink?

Yes, getting an alcohol-induced headache after one drink is normal, especially when you drink alcohol if you’re dehydrated.

Some migraine sufferers say dehydration triggers their headaches.

What alcohol doesn’t give you a headache?

None, actually. Alcohol’s main ingredient is ethanol. It can trigger headaches, and it’s the most responsible for sore heads.

Key Takeaways

Alcohol contains ethanol and has congeners that can be a possible cause of headaches and migraine.

Even a small amount of alcohol can elevate blood pressure, trigger inflammation and peptide release, and suppress glutamate activity in the brain, leading to tension headaches.

Those who experience alcohol-related headaches fall into two categories: a primary headache or a hangover headache.

So, before consuming alcohol, you can eat certain foods or stay hydrated to prevent an alcohol-induced headache and possible migraine.


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