But tonight I have a headache
A frequently heard 'complaint' is that IkPas participants are harassed by annoying headaches. So we had to know more about that. We spoke with psychiatrist and health scientist Arnt Schellekens, who previously conducted research into the effects of an alcohol break in collaboration with liver doctor Eric Twja, about the relationship between break headaches and alcohol.
Is it true that headaches can be a withdrawal symptom when you -temporarily- stop drinking?
“This is certainly true. Withdrawal symptoms mainly occur when alcohol is consumed daily for several months. Often a period of about half a year is maintained with several glasses a day. Headaches are among the mild withdrawal symptoms, as are a general feeling of discomfort, malaise, mild restlessness or sleeping problems.”
How did that happen?
“When you drink alcohol for a long time, your body gets used to it. Adaptations occur in the brain to cope with the daily effects of alcohol. Alcohol is a narcotic. Daily use means that the signal substances in the brain that cause this damping decrease and that the signal substances in the brain that activate them increase. This is a kind of compensation for the daily sedation by alcohol. If you suddenly stop drinking, your brain is in an overactive state, as it were, because it suddenly lacks the dampening, sedating effects of alcohol. This leads to all kinds of withdrawal symptoms, including headaches, but also restlessness, sleep complaints, tremors, sweating, etc. If you have been drinking a lot for a long time, stopping can even lead to psychosis or epilepsy, for example.”
Does having a headache, during a break period, have a function?
“During the pause period, your brain has to reset itself, as it were. The adjustments that have taken place in the brain as a result of the daily anesthesia can be undone. That happens during the break period.”
How long can you as a passer suffer from these headaches?
“Withdrawal symptoms usually appear in the first few days of stopping alcohol use. The peak is usually after two to three days. Then it gradually decreases over the period of one to two weeks. Some complaints, such as poor sleep, can last a little longer. But this too usually passes gradually.”
What do you advise IkPas participants to do when they are bothered by a headache?
“If you have a lot of headaches after stopping alcohol, you can of course try to find some distraction and relax. The restlessness and tension that can accompany quitting can often be easily absorbed in this way. Sports can also help with this. If the headache is really too severe, paracetamol can provide temporary support.
If someone has multiple withdrawal symptoms, or if they drink more than five units of alcohol per day, it is wise to seek advice from a doctor. He or she can prescribe medication to deal with the withdrawal symptoms and to prevent the withdrawal from being seriously disrupted. Sometimes intensive supervision or admission to a clinic is recommended.”