Foamy bubbles of beer overlay the worried face of an Asian woman

Is Alcohol Consumption a Trigger for Migraine?

When I was younger, I had a more robust social life. Part of that included going out with friends and consuming some alcoholic beverages. It was a bonding experience for me, and I was never a heavy drinker.

I didn’t experience any adverse effects from consuming alcohol, but a couple of my friends did. Many times, they would get a headache after drinking red wine or bourbon.

Luckily for them, the headaches were on the moderate side. I was still episodic with my migraine attacks back then, but I could see there was a cost for that alcohol consumption. Over the years, I looked into it further because I have always liked to understand the "why" behind things. I’m just a nerd like that!

Why are people with migraine sensitive to alcohol?

I believe a person with the sensitivities linked to migraines is more susceptible to the effects alcohol puts on our bodies. During the distillation and fermentation of alcohol, naturally formed chemicals called congeners are produced. They can make a hangover or migraine more of a cranky beast than it usually is.1

Alcohol also causes your blood vessels to expand. Expansion and constriction of blood vessels play a role in migraine headaches. Triptans help to reduce inflammation and constrict blood vessels. They can help if your attack is triggered due to alcohol.2-4

What effects can alcohol have on attacks?

Dehydration is another effect that alcohol consumption has on our bodies. I can’t tell you how often I’ve been told to stay hydrated. It’s vital as part of a healthy lifestyle. For some of us, the medications we take for other conditions dehydrate us, so we must be mindful of them.5

Also, red wine has some health benefits when consumed in moderation, but it also has other effects that could cause issues. Often red wine contains histamines and sulfites. If you are a migraine sufferer and these are your triggers, you need to be careful about consuming them.6

I’ve read that about one-third of people who live with migraine are sensitive to alcohol. Tracking your attack patterns and experiences can help you tease these out of your daily life.7

Do I still drink?

I no longer consume any alcohol. It is not due to any negativity I hold toward it, but it is for personal reasons. As far as I know, it’s never been a trigger for me, either. I just found the correlations between headaches and alcohol consumption interesting!

We all have triggers and stimuli that can put us over the threshold of what our bodies will take until an attack begins. When I’m going to be out, I always try to be prepared for a pending attack. Migraine is an individualistic and personal disease because it impacts us all differently. Overall, I feel more research and funding for migraine and headache disorders must be done.

What has been your experience with alcohol consumption and migraine attacks?

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