How to Get Rid of a Hangover Headache

Symptoms and Potential Causes of This Dreaded Headache

Hangover headaches, with their throbbing pain at the temples and their tendency to get worse when you move, can only reliably be cured with time as your body responds to the alcohol. But there are things you can do, like staying hydrated, that can relieve the symptoms.

Understanding what causes a hangover headache can help you take steps to mitigate the symptoms, plus give you a heads-up on how to avoid another one in the future.

This article explains why hangover headaches occur, especially in people with underlying migraine disorders. It presents some home remedies to treat your headache until the hangover passes.

Woman laying in bed with her arm over her eyes
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What Is a Hangover Headache?

A hangover headache—also called a delayed alcohol-induced headache—usually comes on the morning after drinking the night before, once the alcohol is out of your system. A hangover usually lasts for around 24 hours.

Hangover Headache Impacts

Hangover headaches are common enough, but they can have an impact on daily life. Some 29% of college undergraduates say they've lost school time to a hangover, while about 9% of workers in the United States say they've worked while experiencing a hangover that might affect their job performance.

Consuming alcohol can also trigger an underlying primary headache disorder. So if you already experience migraines, cluster headaches, or tension-type headaches, drinking alcohol may precipitate your usual headache attack.

Scientists are not certain as to what causes hangovers, but there are several theories. Some potential causes include:

  • Dehydration
  • The direct effect of alcohol on the brain
  • The withdrawal of alcohol
  • Alcohol additives
  • Alterations in the body's hormones
  • The effects of acetaldehyde, a product of alcohol metabolism

Dehydration occurs because alcohol inhibits the effect of a hormone called antidiuretic hormone (ADH). Normally, ADH stimulates the kidneys to reabsorb water from urine to prevent dehydration.

But by inhibiting ADH, water is instead urinated out at a faster rate than you're adding fluids back. Hydration can help to ease a hangover but it does not completely alleviate the symptoms.

Hangovers vary in severity and symptoms from person to person and episode to episode. In addition, some people may be born with a genetic predisposition to developing worse hangovers than others.

Drinking dark liquors (such as whiskey) tends to lead to more severe hangovers due to chemicals called congeners in the drinks. They're a byproduct of the fermentation process.

Hangover Headache Symptoms

Hangover headaches tend to have symptoms common to many people. The headaches often occur along with other symptoms related to drinking alcoholic beverages.

Hangover headaches typically will:

  • Occur on both sides of the head
  • Be located on the forehead and/or the temples
  • Pulsate
  • Worsen with physical activity

In addition to a headache, other common symptoms of a hangover include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Fast heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Reduced attention and concentration
  • Low or anxious mood
  • General feeling of unwellness

Hangover Headache Treatment

If you have a hangover, it will take time for the headache to completely go away, but there are certain measures you can take to relieve its severity.

Self Care

Having a hangover is exhausting, so getting as much rest as possible is important to restore your energy and well-being.

Other things you can do to help yourself feel better include avoiding smoking and putting a cold compress on your head if it relieves your headache.

Medication

Taking an over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) like Advil (ibuprofen) can usually ease a hangover headache, but be sure take an NSAID with food, as it may upset your stomach.

Some people cannot take NSAIDs due to underlying medical problems, so be sure it is safe for you to do so.

Hangover Headache and Tylenol

Keep in mind that it is important to minimize the use of Tylenol (acetaminophen) when drinking alcohol (or recovering from a hangover), as the combination can harm the liver.

Nutrition

The most important thing to consume while you are recovering from a hangover is liquid, in order to avoid further dehydration. Any liquid (except alcohol!) that you find palatable is acceptable, such as boullion, chicken soup, sports drinks, or water. Fruit juices can also help to boost your blood sugar.

If you're feeling queasy, avoid rich, greasy foods and stick to dry, bland foods like toast and crackers.

Hangover Headaches and Herbal Remedies

At least one small study has shown some hangover treatment benefits from an over-the-counter remedy that contains milk thistle, thiamine, and antioxidants, but more research is needed. Certain supplements and herbal remedies have been touted as hangover remedies, but there is no solid evidence backing up this claim.

Prevention

The only guaranteed way to prevent a hangover headache is to avoid alcohol, or at least drink in moderation.

For healthy adults, moderate drinking means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and two drinks a day for men. A "drink" in this case is considered a 5-ounce glass of wine or 12 ounces of beer.

If you are going to drink, here are some tips for lessening the effect of alcohol:

  • Eat before and while drinking. Alcohol is absorbed more quickly if your stomach is empty, so eating something may help slow down its effects.
  • Choose carefully. Beverages with fewer congeners are slightly less likely to cause hangovers than beverages with more congeners, but remember that all types of alcohol can result in a hangover.
  • Sip water between drinks. Drinking a full glass of water after each alcoholic drink will help you stay hydrated. It'll also help you drink less alcohol.
  • Know your limits and only drink in moderation. Decide ahead of time how many drinks you'll have—and stick to it. Don't feel pressured to drink.

Remember to take it slow, too. Avoid having more than one alcoholic drink per hour. Stop drinking completely when you've reached your limit (or before then).

A Word From Verywell

If you want to avoid a hangover headache, the best thing you can do is think before you drink. Is the hangover headache worth it? It may be that avoiding or moderating alcohol intake is the best decision for you.Talk to your healthcare provider about alcohol use, which can have serious health and social consequences.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can I get rid of a hangover headache?

    You can't make it go away instantly, but you can minimize the severity of the symptoms by taking certain measures such as hydrating, resting, and taking a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory pain reliever such as ibuprofen.

  • How long does it take for a hangover headache to go away?

    It generally takes around 24 hours for a hangover headache to go away completely. There are things you can do to minimize the symptoms, but there is no fast way to get over a hangover headache and the only true cure is time.

  • Do showers help hangovers?

    A cold shower may feel stimulating, and a hot shower may dilate your blood vessels and improve blood flow. But it's a myth that taking a shower will cure hangover headache symptoms. The only real hangover cure is time, and a shower won't make it happen faster.

12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Colleen Doherty, MD
 Colleen Doherty, MD, is a board-certified internist living with multiple sclerosis.