Migraine Triggers: Alcohol

I have gotten pretty good at controlling my exposure to triggers that I don’t like much anyway. Chewing gum too much can aggravate my TMJ dysfunction, which in turn can trigger a migraine—luckily I don’t much like chomping on bubblegum, so this isn’t a problem for me.

(The sugar substitute that almost every single gum brand now uses is rarely a problem in this context, too—I dislike chewing gum so am never tempted to chew a stick of minty freshness that will trigger a migraine because of the artificial sweetener.)

What isn’t as easy to control are the triggers that happen to be things I enjoy. I love staying up late on the weekends, but I know that switching up my sleep schedule too dramatically can mess with my head. I can usually refrain from altering my sleep patterns, but sometimes it’s tempting to stay out super-late at a concert. Sitting on the beach is so enjoyable to me in short bursts, but I am having such a pleasant time that I neglect to wear a big, floppy hat and sunglasses sometimes, not realizing (or not admitting?) that that sun I love so much is glaring across the beach and the water, probably triggering a migraine.

Probably highest on the list of triggers I don’t want to acknowledge is alcohol consumption. Many of this blog’s readers responded in droves to my post about saying goodbye to beer, so I’m sure just as many of you will know what it’s like to not be able to drink more than a few sips of any sort of alcohol if you go out on the town.

For a long time, alcohol didn’t seem to be a trigger for me. While I was never in my wildest dreams a big drinker, I used to be able to get tipsy with the rest of them. In graduate school, I could go out a few nights a week (consuming alcohol about half to a third of those going-out nights) and wake up the next day feeling fine and ready for class.

Things seemed to change as I approached 30. I’m now 31 and have to play it really, really safe, being careful to limit myself if I can’t resist the urge to imbibe. Even writing “can’t resist” suggests that I am some sort of out-of-control alcoholic, which is far from the case. I’d say 2-3 times a month I am out at a concert or at a party and think of how refreshing a cool beverage could be. Usually I resist.

But sometimes I don’t.

And here’s the tricky thing about the alcohol trigger—well, about most migraine triggers, really—sometimes they result in a vicious migraine attack, and sometimes they don’t. The week after my period I might be able to split a bottle of white wine with a friend and wake up ready and rollin’ to go at 8 AM. Other times (say, during my period itself) I can have half a glass of that same wine and wake up at 11 AM with a pounding, unrelenting migraine. Blame it on the alcohol (and probably the late night that went along with it!).

How do you know when to take the risk and when not to? Is it ever worth it? What have you discovered about the relationship between your migraine disease and alcohol consumption? Are any types of alcohol better tolerated than others?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (22)
  • Nocturnus218
    5 months ago

    I have found that alcohol cures my migraine. When I get a migraine, a few shots of vodka and the headache is gone. 🙂 then the fun postdrome hits.

  • ScottJ
    2 years ago

    Beer is often a trigger for me, but not always. Tap beer seems to be the worst – I think maybe because it is unpasterized. It’s tricky though, sometimes a small amount of light colored beer helps me to relax when I have a migraine

  • Becky Davenport
    7 years ago

    Thanks for the helpful comments. I am post hysterectomy but have my ovaries…so I don’t know when/if I am cycling, but get those three-dayers that make me wonder. cuz once they are gone, they are gone. But without a period to keep track of, I am kinda doomed to know unless I start charting. yeah, right. I can’t even find my keys half the time. 🙂 Has anyone tried mead? since it doesn’t use grapes, wondering if it might be a good one. I mentioned earlier that clear liquors didn’t bother me. I don’t even drink very often anyway but its nice to know what you can safely have. I am thinking of trying to make some berry based wine, since grapes aren’t the only thing you can make wine out of…hhmm…..

  • Diana Kocourek-Hall
    7 years ago

    I cannot touch alcohol without getting deadly ill with at least a 3-day migraine.

  • Dee
    8 years ago

    Migraine Girl, I sooo can relate to most of what you have to say about migraine. My enemies are beer and wine (red and white) especially. Which is a shame because I really enjoy wine. Funny enough though, I have been ok with champagne. I’ve discovered citric acid as a major trigger along with all other types of citrus (haven’t drank OJ since I was in my teens!)
    Vodka is the drink of choice but then i have to be careful what it’s mix it with.

  • Barbara Collins
    8 years ago

    OK I’m glad to hear this story because one week I can have a glass of wine and it has no effect but when I’m in the migraine “zone”, it’s instant migraine within the hour. This is not just with red wine. We know most all wines (with few exceptions) have nitrates and I’m thinking that’s the culprit.

  • Barbara Collins
    8 years ago

    Margaritas get me too and I love to have one.

  • Jeff Dower
    8 years ago

    See Barb, need to switch to Tequila.. solves a lot of problems.. 🙂

  • Barbara Collins
    8 years ago

    Do you get migraines too? I never knew! Beer gets me when the timing is wrong (and never beer and pizza together).

  • Mike Borowski
    8 years ago

    I can’t drink wine at all. Good with spirits and beer though.

  • Heather Cullen
    8 years ago

    I used to be able to drink people under the table in my youth, but as I approach 30, even the littlest bit of drinking gives me a 3 days hangover/migraine. Just one more thing to add to the list I have to avoid now.

  • Heather Cullen
    8 years ago

    hahahah, you are not old!

  • Krystal Tait-Wheatley
    8 years ago

    Ur not even 30 lol I turn thirty in 3 days 🙁 so sad … I’m old

  • Becky Davenport
    8 years ago

    Although I really like wine, I have found of all the alcohols, that wine is the worst trigger. Not every time, but sometimes by the first glass! But, all is not lost. Clear liquors don’t seem to bother me at a, unless I overimbibe, which doesn’t really happen anymore. So, unfortunately its no to wine most of the time.

  • Jill Oglesby Dehlin
    8 years ago

    I’m with you, girl. Sometimes alcohol is a trigger and sometimes not. Bud Light seems to be the safest beer for me for some reason. Mostly, I abstain because it’s not worth the risk of feeling lousy for up to 3 days. I was at a bar with girlfriends once, and I told the bartender “no thanks, I don’t drink.” And my girlfriend added – “the sad thing is, she DOES drink, but can’t.” Sad and true.

  • Kathy Kozek-Brandenburg
    7 years ago

    i am giving up alcohol for lent to see if this helps with my migraines. like a few people said, its just not worth the pain!

  • Tina Ridley
    8 years ago

    It could be the timing of the drinking around your period too. I feel more hungover & lethargic even if I haven’t had any alcohol during menstruation. Be careful during ovulation time too. Good luck Migraine Girl. I adore you.

  • Janet Geddis
    8 years ago

    Oh yes, that’s what I was trying to get at–my tolerance and triggers are greatly affected by what time of the month it is. Fluctuations in hormones + introducing a trigger (alcohol) = bad news bears. And I adore you, too, TR.

  • Sasha McInnis
    8 years ago

    Thank you so much for addressing this! I like to havee fun too (he he) but never want to risk a migraine. For me, only the good quality “top shelf” liquor is okay to drink. If I drink beer, cheap wine or anything on the cheaper side I am doomed. Hope this is helpful!

  • Andrea Thomas Krohn
    8 years ago

    I have a drink or two once or twice a month. Any amount of wine or beer triggers headaches for me, but if I have a mixed drink (usually Crown & Coke or rum & Coke) I can sometimes get away with it. If I have any kind of “funny feeling” in my head or in general, I don’t drink. The few times I have had a drink on a day my head was feeling heavy or cloudy or just weird, I had one heck of a migraine and was violently sick. It’s hard to decide if the risk is worth it sometimes.

  • Tammy Foster
    8 years ago

    I seem to have the same problem with wine, somestimes it kicks my butt. I have never had a problem with beer, but don’t tend to drink much of it. It does not seem to matter if it is white or red , once in a while a little can give me the worst migraine ever.

  • Ann Schmitz Viveros
    8 years ago

    The alcohol trigger is tough. I agree, sometimes a few sips seems to put me into a migraine spin for two days and other times two glasses don’t even phase my migraine. I wonder if it has more to do with a combination of things, the late night, the menses, the sun. I’ve tried to track it, but it is just very unpredictable.

  • Poll