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Medically Reviewed

Does Alcohol Withdrawal Cause Headaches?

- 5 sections

Medically Verified: 2/1/24

Medical Reviewer:

Sahil Talwar, PA-C, MBA


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Alcoholism is a common yet devastating issue that millions of Americans face each year. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), 29.5 million people suffered from alcohol use disorder in 2021.[1]

While many people struggle with alcoholism, the effects of this condition can be extremely difficult to cope with. One of the first hurdles people in recovery from alcohol use disorder will face is withdrawal. Alcohol withdrawal can be uncomfortable, painful, and even life-threatening without proper medical treatment.

One common symptom of alcohol withdrawal is headaches. While alcohol withdrawal does cause headaches that can be hard to manage, there are more severe symptoms that you could experience like hallucinations, delusions, and seizures. As a result, you should always attend a medical detox center rather than attempting to overcome alcohol withdrawal on your own.

What are the Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal?

When you are addicted to alcohol, your brain and body rely on it to function properly. Your body gets used to the depressant effects of alcohol and it has to work harder to overcome them, and when you suddenly stop drinking, your body continues working in an overactive state, producing symptoms of withdrawal. Alcohol withdrawal can include a wide variety of symptoms, including mild ones like headaches and severe effects like hallucinations and seizures.

The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal may include:[2]

  • Anxiety or nervousness
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Jumpiness or being easily startled
  • Mood swings
  • Nightmares
  • Being unable to think clearly
  • Excessive sweating
  • Dilated pupils
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Shakiness and tremors
  • Delirium tremens (DTs), which includes symptoms like delusions, hallucinations, fever, and seizures

Because of the wide range of symptoms you could experience during alcohol withdrawal, you should always seek support from a medical detox center.

Why Does Alcohol Withdrawal Cause Headaches?

Alcohol withdrawal can cause tension headaches, cluster headaches, and even migraines. Without proper medical treatment, these headaches can become so severe that you are tempted to drink just to soothe your symptoms. But why does alcohol withdrawal cause headaches?

When you quit drinking after being addicted to alcohol, your body begins to try to reach equilibrium. To explain, when you drink alcohol your brain begins to work overtime to try and counteract the depressant effects of it. If you drink alcohol all the time, your body gets used to working in a heightened state. Once you stop drinking, your brain has a hard time returning to normal until the substance is completely removed from your system and the body can reach equilibrium again.

When it comes to headaches, the primary cause is the dilation of blood vessels in the brain. Alcohol consumption often results in the constriction of blood vessels. When someone who regularly drinks suddenly stops, the blood vessels may expand rapidly, leading to increased blood flow to the brain. This sudden change in blood flow can trigger headaches or migraines.

Dehydration is another factor. Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it increases urine production and can lead to dehydration. Withdrawal symptoms, including headaches, might be aggravated due to dehydration caused by excessive alcohol consumption.

Should You Attend Detox for Alcohol Withdrawal?

While alcohol withdrawal can cause headaches, this symptom should be the least of your concerns.

Alcohol withdrawal can be life-threatening when you are not receiving proper treatment. For example, people with severe alcohol use disorder are vulnerable to developing delirium tremens (DTs). Without proper treatment, DTs have a mortality rate of up to 37%.[3]

Since alcohol withdrawal causes much more severe symptoms than simply headaches, you should always attend medical detox. During an alcohol detox program, you will be provided with treatments and medications that lessen the symptoms of withdrawal, keeping you safe and comfortable throughout the entire process.

How to Cope With Headaches During Alcohol Detox

If you are in a medical detox program and having a hard time coping with headaches, there are a few things you can do to limit your symptoms. First, may be given anti-inflammatory medications that should limit symptoms like headaches, however, sometimes you will still experience mild symptoms even with these drugs.

If medication is not working to alleviate your alcohol withdrawal headaches, you can try the following tips and tricks to cope:

  • Drink a lot of fluids that contain electrolytes
  • Engage in meditation, yoga, or breathing exercises
  • Avoid bright lights or loud noises
  • Maintain a healthy and balanced diet
  • Engage in less strenuous exercises like walking or swimming
  • Use coping mechanisms to limit stress
  • Have a healthy sleeping schedule
  • Consider drinking coffee if it is available
  • Use an ice or heating pack on your head
  • Get a massage from your detox facility
  • Keep a journal to identify triggers that may contribute to your headaches

If you are having a hard time with headaches during your detox program, your nurses and doctors can help you come up with effective ways to cope.

Find Help for Alcohol Withdrawal

If you or a loved one struggles with alcohol use disorder, it’s time to seek professional help. While headaches are a common symptom of alcohol withdrawal, you could experience much more severe effects like seizures, making it vital that you seek support from a medical detox center.

At Carolina Center for Recovery, our alcohol detox services keep you safe and comfortable throughout the withdrawal process. To learn more about our program, contact us today.


  1. The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA): Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) in the United States: Age Groups and Demographic Characteristics, Retrieved December 2023 From
  2. Medline Plus: Alcohol withdrawal, Retrieved December 2023 From
  3. National Library of Medicine: Delirium Tremens, Retrieved December 2023 from