Alcohol withdrawal isn’t pretty; it can trigger a host of unpleasant physical and psychological symptoms that can last a few days or as long as a few weeks. Some are mild and flu-like, with little cause for concern. Other symptoms can be severe, life-threatening, and require hospitalization. Fortunately, alcohol withdrawal headaches aren’t usually part of the latter category. They are a fairly commonplace symptom and on their own are not a cause for alarm.
Why Does Alcohol Withdrawal Cause Headaches?
The cause of alcohol withdrawal headaches is the same as withdrawal itself. Alcohol withdrawal happens when the body has developed a physical dependence on the substance. The brain has learned to compensate for the dulling effect of alcohol by constantly releasing extra chemicals in order to keep up functions as normal. This overstimulation becomes the new normal – even when alcohol is no longer present. The discomfort that occurs is the adjustment period of chemical production returning to normal.
How Long Do Alcohol Withdrawal Headaches Last?
Alcohol withdrawal is not a clear-cut process. It can vary widely from person to person based on the severity of their drinking habits, and get very messy in the interim before the body re-adjusts to functioning without alcohol. Therefore, alcohol withdrawal-induced headaches can be difficult to predict. The average withdrawal process can take a few days or, in rare cases, over a month to pass.
Types of Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can occur within hours after your last drink. However, the time distinction is not as important as the severity of the symptoms and does not follow a linear time-based schedule. Minor, moderate, or severe symptoms of withdrawal can occur at the very onset of the withdrawal process.
The first stages of withdrawal begin around the 6-hour mark. Symptoms typically peak around the 48-hour mark and subside in intensity. Persisting symptoms that occur or worsen are usually attributed to delirium tremens, the most severe type of withdrawal.
Minor Symptoms (Common)
The most common withdrawal symptoms are ones that affect the autonomic nervous system. These are functions that regulate the body’s automatic body functions like breathing, heart rate, digestion, reflexes, sneezing, etc., and typically cease after 48 hours.
- Dilated pupils
- Higher blood pressure
- Higher body temperature
Moderate Symptoms (Less Common)
Moderate symptoms include psychological side effects. These can begin 12-24 hours after withdrawal begins, and lasts significantly longer, for up to 6 days.
- Hallucinations (visual, auditory, or touch)
Severe Symptoms (Uncommon)
- Fast breathing
- Extreme sweating
- Delirium tremens
Alcohol & Headaches
Headaches are one of the first symptoms of alcohol withdrawal to occur. They typically do so within the first 24-hours and can range in intensity from mild to severe (migraine-like). Headaches are often one of the first indicators the withdrawal is occurring. Withdrawal isn’t the only condition associated with headaches after heavy drinking, however. Hangovers are also known to leave heads pounding and bleary after a night of heavy drinking. Sometimes, hangover symptoms can be so severe that it is mistaken for withdrawal.
Despite the similarities, headaches caused by withdrawal are completely different from those that occur as the after-effects of a binge drinking session. Withdrawal headaches are triggered by the absence of alcohol in the system, while hangover headaches are caused by too much alcohol being consumed at once. So while the pain may feel the same, the underlying cause of a withdrawal headache is much more serious.
If you have begun to experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms, it is recommended to have medical intervention for the detox process. Contact us today to learn more.