Back to all discussions

Have we mistaken those self treating with alcohol with alcoholics?

A thought occurred to me the other day that if I'm going to feel like I'm living a neverending hangover why shouldn't I just give up and anesthetize myself with alcohol? And that got me thinking about my uncle Bob, who his friends and family recognized as a genius. He was a WWII combat pilot and then test pilot, started and ran several businesses (according to Kit Kar magazine designed and built the first Corvette replica at least a decade before anyone else) but always had problems because he drank on a daily basis. At one point he told my dad that "On good days we, he and his wife Barbara, drink a fifth of whiskey and on bad days a jug of wine." I can't get it out of my head that maybe he wasn't a "functional alcoholic" as much as he may just been a migraineur with no access to proper medical care. An article I ran across says that "Ergot and ergonovine were used for migraines, but wartime shortages affected the supply." I can't find any reference about pilots being treated for migraines but I'm well aware that many pilots hid terrible medical problems just to stay in the air. My uncle passed many years ago, long before my migraines became chronic, and I don't know any other veterans who are so open about their alcohol abuse. I brought this idea up with my mom, he was my dads brother, but she is convinced he was just an alcoholic. Do any of you have personal experience treating migraines with alcohol, or maybe you know someone who may be doing this right now? I'm going to be on the lookout for people with alcohol problems who are willing to sit down and discuss problems they may have that would indicate some of the lesser known symptoms of migraine. Considering the stigma of migraine now and how much worse it was 50 or 75 years ago, wouldn't being labeled a "hard drinker" have been preferable? Would being known as a drunk really have been worse?

  1. Alcohol is the only real 'food trigger' that I have. Once in a while I have a glass of wine or two with friends because I get surly and annoyed that I can't 'have a normal life' and do the things other people do, and then I regret it very very much. So self medicating with alcohol would not work for me. Do other people find it relieves their headaches? A little jealous...

    1. Brian, there is a Veterans group called DryHootch that is a peer support group. I'm unclear if you're a Veteran or not, but they are a resource to start with. Very cool founders and members. Since the group is about peer support, folks will share. 😀 A common cause of migraine in Veterans is Traumatic Brain Injury TBI and even mild TBI: mTBI. Brain injury can be "blast injury " which is percussive (exposure to shock waves or "concussive" where the person has actually hit their head. Altitude is a known migraine trigger (don' I know it) so it would follow that many pilots, especially in older planes, would suffer. Check out DryHootch. (Where the name derives from is interesting, too.)

      1. I know for a fact that when I am having several days in a row of feeling out of it with low-level migraine symptoms, I will get home and have a couple glasses of wine because, I realized one day, my symptoms can feel a bit like having a bit too much wine. So self-destructive behavior or not, I will have the wine, which at least relaxes me while I drink it, and feel sort of how I have been feeling before, but this time because I did it to myself and not because my body decided to act out. And that led me to thinking of your exact same question. I also wondered if people self-medicate with illegal substances, but that might be harder to find out.

        1. Wow, just realized today how bad I've been about updating these threads, apologies to everyone. I am a veteran and while I do believe my service likely aggravated my migraines, I have found that they also have arrested what may have been a drinking problem. I served on 3 different nuclear submarines and was diagnosed while serving on the 2nd as suffering from ocular migraines (aura without pain, maybe suffering is the wrong word) which then suddenly converted to chronic daily migraines while underway on the 3rd. As a nuclear reactor operator trying to requalify on a new plant that meant I needed to learn enough information to fill a set of encyclopedias within 3 months, which became impossible when the migraines limited my reading / study to ~15 minutes per day. My insistence on getting effective treatment for the migraines led to my medical discharge from the Navy after 12 years. 2 things make me believe migraines are aggravated by submarine service: 1. anecdotal evidence that men serving on submarines suffer migraines about 20 times the rate of men in the general population; 2. submarines normally suppress O2 levels to ~16% to reduce the chance of fires and filter CO2 out of the air using a chemical called monoethanolamine (amines in the diet are known to trigger migraines . Medical investigations of people living at high altitudes show headaches are far more common and though a poor comparison since the O2 deprivation at altitude is associated with reduced atmospheric pressure (submarines normally maintain 14.7 psi pressure regardless of depth) but are the only common analogues. What I find suspicious is that there is a 1946 study of submarine atmosphere available on the web but nothing more modern. Atmospheric controls on nuclear submarines and the amount of time spent without ventilating with fresh air couldn't be more different so to assume those tests weren't repeated after 1946 seems almost ridiculous to me and the inability to access the results of any follow on tests leads me to believe they are still classified, begging the question why. That technology is now 50+ years old, I have a very hard time believing any country which can assemble a submarine doesn't already have that information, so why wouldn't the DOD declassify those studies or make them available to the Veterans Administration (I have asked, repeatedly)? Personally I fear the studies would reveal that the Navy should spend as much effort trying to filter out those volunteers with a predisposition for migraines as they do filtering out diabetics, claustrophobics, etc. But, to get back to the topic of alcohol, migraines have severely curtailed my beer drinking due to the worsening of the migraine as soon as my BAC starts to drop (which oddly enough does not seem to occur with hard liquor) and almost guaranteed terrible migraines with any hangover. Of course, if you never sober up you never get a hangover so....

          or create an account to reply.