You’ve had a little to drink – or maybe more than a little – and while you’re still having a good time, the headache strikes. What’s happening? Should you be concerned?
Yes, you should be. If you have a headache within two or three hours of drinking alcohol, you’re experiencing something different from the familiar “hangover”. In fact, the International Headache Society has classified these as two different types of headache.
The headache that arrives early is known as an immediate alcohol-induced headache. That doesn’t mean it happens right away, but if it happens within 2-3 hours, it qualifies. This has sometimes been called the “cocktail headache”.
If these symptoms are new to you, you need to go to your doctor and explain your symptoms and medical history, in order to be sure something serious isn’t behind the headache.
Be sure you tell your doctor about any other headache conditions you have. It could be that people with tension-type headache, or migraine attacks, may be more susceptible to this rare alcohol induced headache. It could also be that the alcohol is triggering an attack.
If you have another headache condition, your best first step will be to treat (or continue to treat) that condition. Getting migraine attacks under control, for example, should improve the situation.
Unfortunately, immediate alcohol-induced headache is notoriously changeable. You may drink a little one day and get a headache, and drink a lot another day with no problem. The only way to certainly avoid the headache is to avoid the alcohol.
Do keep a headache diary, paying special attention to any alcohol you’re drinking. This will help your doctor diagnose you correctly and find a treatment plan which works for you.