Hangover Headache: Causes, Symptoms, Remedies, And Prevention

Written by Sanchari Bhattacharya, Certificate Of Natural Medicine

The euphoria of binge drinking does not take long to dissolve when you experience a bad hangover the next day. Luckily, you can easily get rid of a hangover headache when you know the right hacks. We all know someone who swears by a hangover cure they recommend, but what works for them may not work for you. Well, look no further. This article discusses a few tried and tested hangover remedies and explains the reasons behind dreadful headaches. Keep reading.

What Is A Hangover Headache?

A hangover headache is like a throbbing headache that is accompanied by a light and sound sensitivity after an episode of excessive drinking. It is one of the most common symptoms of a hangover that begins when blood alcohol levels start to fall within a few hours after you have stopped drinking (1). The symptoms of a hangover usually peak when the blood alcohol level hits zero and gradually resolves itself within the next 24 hours (2).

You can get a headache during a hangover for a number of reasons. Let’s look at some in detail.

Causes Of Hangover Headache

There are a variety of ways in which alcohol interacts with the body and gives rise to a hangover. However, only a few effects have been understood to be responsible for the hangover headache. Even then, exactly how headaches are caused or why remains unknown and requires further study.

  •  Vasodilation Due To Alcohol Intoxication

The ethanol present in alcohol makes the blood vessels dilated and that is considered to be one of the primary reasons behind the headache during hangovers (3). Ethanol is a byproduct of alcohol metabolism in the body.

  •  Alcohol’s Effect On Neurotransmitters And Hormones

Alcohol affects hormones and neurotransmitters like histamine, prostaglandins, and serotonin. All of these are linked to the onset of headaches in some people. For instance, it increases histamine and serotonin levels and blocks prostaglandin inhibitors. Prostaglandins play a role in electrolyte balance, vascular tone, and other metabolic and secretory processes which have been linked with hangover symptoms (4), (5), (6).

  •  Alcohol Withdrawal

The list of common symptoms that are used to assess the degree of withdrawal in alcohol-dependent people includes headache, which is also a common symptom of a hangover. This has led to the hypothesis that the dip of alcohol level in the blood triggers a mild to moderate withdrawal-like state which presents the headache as a symptom (7).

  •  Increased Levels of Plasma Serotonin And Plasma Histamine

Do you prefer red wine or white? If your answer is red wine, that may be a possible reason for the hangover headache. That’s because red wine contains certain yet unidentified agents which lead to a rise in the levels of plasma serotonin and plasma histamine. Both of these, in high amounts, can trigger headaches in some people (8).

  •  Other Effects On The Body

Alcohol affects urine production, the gastrointestinal tract, sleep patterns, and blood sugar levels among other things in your body. While not all of them have been directly studied as a reason for the headache in episodes of a hangover, some of the following alcohol-induced effects may make your headache worse (8), (9):

  •  dehydration and imbalance in electrolytes
  •  gastrointestinal effects
  •  lowered levels of blood sugar
  •  sleep disturbances
  •  additional compounds in alcohol like methanol

As you can see, there are many ways in which alcohol affects the body and mind, and more symptoms that accompany a hangover than the dreaded headache.

Common Symptoms Associated With A Hangover Headache

A hangover headache is usually accompanied by sensitivity to light (9). You may also experience some other hangover symptoms simultaneously, including (10) :

  •  sensitivity to light
  •  dizziness
  •  diarrhea
  •  shakiness
  •  tiredness
  •  nausea
  •  rapid heartbeat
  •  sweating
  •  depression
  •  anxiety
  •  irritability

You may or may not experience all of the symptoms. The more pressing question on your mind may be— how long will it take for the misery of the hangover to end?

How Long Does It Take For A Hangover Headache To Go Away?

Hangovers can extend up to 24 hours after your last drink and you should be able to feel some relief after that duration has passed (11). The duration of your hangover headache may also depend on several factors including how much you had to drink, the type of alcohol you had, your genetic makeup, the state of your liver, and overall health.

While the most effective remedy for a hangover is time, there are a few things you can do to ease your symptoms, including the headache.

Helpful Hangover Remedies

  •  Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Medications

The quickest remedy for a hangover headache is an over-the-counter drug like aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen. They have been studied for their potential to reduce headache and muscle pain linked with hangovers. However, you should be careful about taking if you are experiencing nausea or pain in the upper abdomen. NSAIDs are gastric irritants and may compound the effects of alcohol-induced gastrointestinal symptoms (12).

  •  Hydrate

Your body loses a lot of fluid during alcohol consumption, which may leave you dehydrated (13). Dehydration can trigger headaches and some other hangover symptoms. A promising study has found that drinking water may help mitigate a headache and reduce its intensity (14). Although further studies are required on water being a cure for headaches, it can’t hurt to rehydrate yourself. Drink water, Gatorade, juice, and other warm or cold fluids to rehydrate your body and get it back to form.

  •  Eat Bland Food That You Like And Drink Fruit Juice

Nausea is one of the common symptoms that accompany a hangover headache. Avoid outlandish or gross recipes calling for raw egg or raw fish. Instead, stick to bland carbohydrates like bread or pasta and fruits. That way you can replenish blood glucose levels and essential nutrients to help your body fight off the hangover symptoms (9), (15).

  •  Take Vitamin B6

Research suggests that taking vitamin B6 supplements can mitigate some of the symptoms of a hangover. Alcohol is known to lower B6 levels in the body, so to boost up the level, either consume foods rich in B6 like sunflower seeds, chicken, pork, and peanuts or take a supplement (16), (10).

There really isn’t much you can do besides riding out the hangover, use these hangover remedies, and make notes to prevent the morning after the misery. The next section can help you with useful tips.


  •  Drink water or other non-fizzy drinks in between alcoholic drinks.
  •  Eat during your drinking session.
  •  Limit to 4 drinks if you are a man and 3 drinks if you are a woman.
  •  Drink lighter alcohol like clear rum, vodka, gin, and avoid dark-colored liquor.

Sometimes preventive measures may fail or you may forget to stick to them while drinking. In case that happens and you end up drinking too much, you may need the remedies or medical attention.

When To See A Doctor

Alcohol poisoning or alcohol overdose is a serious medical emergency and you should immediately consult your physician if you experience any of these symptoms while or after drinking (17):

  •  confusion
  •  blue or purple skin
  •  excessive vomiting
  •  slowed breathing (inhaling and exhaling fewer than eight times a minute)
  •  10 or more seconds between breaths
  •  chills
  •  seizures
  •  difficulty in remaining awake or conscious

A hangover headache is one of the most common after-effects of drinking too much. While the science is still not too clear, there is some evidence that the metabolism of alcohol in the body is responsible for it. The best cure for a hangover headache is time, a nutritious meal, lots of fluid, and an anti-inflammatory OTC medicine like aspirin. You can prevent a headache hangover in the first place by drinking less and slowly and having your drinks with food and water. It may sound boring, but it can save you a day of misery after the party!

Key Takeaways

  • Hangover headache usually begins when the blood alcohol levels start to come down within a few hours of drinking. It peaks when the levels hit zero.
  • Other reasons like dilation of blood vessels and increase in serotonin and histamine levels also may cause hangover headaches.
  • This headache usually lasts up to 24 hours.
  • Drinking water and eating food in between your drinks, and limiting your alcohol intake may help prevent a hangover.

Hangover headache is a common side effect of heavy alcohol consumption. While the symptoms usually resolve within a day, they can be influenced by factors such as the brand, the amount of alcohol consumed, and your overall health. But you can speed up the recovery rate by following these easy home remedies. These remedies are effective as they have pain-relieving and hydrating properties. Replenishing your health with nutritious foods will also help you recover quickly. However, consult your healthcare provider if the condition persists. It is recommended that you limit your alcohol intake or eat something nutritious as you drink to prevent these severe hangover headaches.


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  1. Development of a Definition for the Alcohol Hangover: Consumer Descriptions and Expert Consensus
  2. Proceeding of the 8th Alcohol Hangover Research Group Meeting
  3. Drunkenness Hangover and the Heart
  4. Neurotransmitters in alcoholism: A review of neurobiological and genetic studies
  5. Histamine and Serotonin in Cluster Headache
  6. Prostaglandins in alcohol intolerance and hangover
  7. Brain reward deficits accompany withdrawal (hangover) from acute ethanol in rats
  8. Acetate Causes Alcohol Hangover Headache in Rats
  9. Alcohol Hangover
  10. The alcohol hangover
  11. The Alcohol Hangover Research Group Consensus Statement on Best Practice in Alcohol Hangover Research
  12. NSAIDs in the Acute Treatment of Migraine: A Review of Clinical and Experimental Data
  13. The Effect of Alcohol on Fluid and Electrolyte Metabolism
  14. Increasing the daily water intake for the prophylactic treatment of headache: a pilot trial
  15. Effects of Hangover on Psychomotor Skills Related to Driving: Modification by Fructose and Glucose
  16. Vitamin B6 Intake Alcohol Consumption and Colorectal Cancer: A Longitudinal Population-Based Cohort of Women
  17. Understanding the Dangers of Alcohol Overdose
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