Alcohol often gets highlighted as a major migraine trigger, but the evidence shows that it’s not especially a worse trigger than other significant migraine triggers. But alcohol abuse is also increased in chronic pain sufferers. When we’re in chronic pain, we often look for small ways to relax — and that martini with dinner can be hard to give up. So what’s the evidence, and what should we look out for?
Alcohol and migraines
Track your alcohol intake
You’re already using this app — go ahead and track your alcohol intake with it. Break down the trigger into specific alcohols, too: wine, liquor, cocktails, beer. Some migraine sufferers are fine with a beer or two, and others are spiraled into pain by one sip. Track your intake to see if alcohol is a trigger for you.
Red wine gets the blame, but it’s not always the culprit
A reason to break down your alcohol tracking into specific types of alcohol is because you can’t reliably predict which alcohol is triggering you. Red wine has a reputation for causing migraines, but it’s all alcohol’s effects regardless of the type which often cause migraines. Several theories exist for why alcohol causes migraines: vasodilation (any change in blood flow can cause headaches), overstimulation of nerve pathways and liver secretions after a night of drinking. Because the science is fuzzy, tracking triggers will help you narrow down your culprit.
Don’t forget another important trigger: dehydration
Alcohol can dehydrate you. And when we’re dehydrated, we get migraines. Consistent water intake is important to staying pain-free, so if you’re drinking, make sure you’re drinking extra water and non-alcoholic fluids during and after a night of drinking.
What to drink instead
If you find alcohol causes your migraines, you might find yourself missing the fizz or fanciness or specialness of a cocktail or glass of beer. You can replace this psychological feeling with non-alcoholic beverages, like flavored seltzer or craft sodas. Sometimes just putting your non-alcoholic drink in a cocktail glass can give you that same relaxed feel as drinking alcohol!
Consider why you’re drinking
If you know alcohol causes migraines, but you feel reluctant to give up drinking, take some time to consider why. Are you feeling anxious or depressed? Does alcohol feel like an escape from your chronic pain, even though it causes more pain the next day? Is there something in your routine that facilitates more drinking, like friends who drink or routines that involve alcohol? Keep this in mind as you track your triggers. Do you see more anxiety or depression before or after a night of drinking? If so, you may want to consider talking to your doctor about the amount you drink and formulating a plan.
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