Why Does Alcohol Cause Anxiety
Alcohol affects the receptors and chemicals in our brain and body. When alcohol is consumed, the neurotransmitters that affect moods, such as serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, are altered.
Dr. George F. Koob, the director of the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism , told Newsweek: “Alcohol initially dampens sympathetic nervous system activity, in part by suppressing the amygdala,” which is a part of the brain that’s capable of activating the stress response and causing feelings of anxiety. This dampening of activity in the amygdala leads to temporary feelings of relaxation and reduced anxiety.
However, the brain adjusts to these sedating effects and when the alcohol wears off, “activity in the stress circuitry is higher than normal,” which leads to greater levels of anxiety and general dysphoria, Koob said. Increases in such negative emotional symptoms are known as hyperkatifeia and include anxiety.
Bhatt said: “Alcohol can cause both physiological hyperarousal as well as psychological anxiety over time.” In most normal cases, our brains have a balance of inhibitory and excitatory neurotransmitters.
When alcohol is consumed acutely or over a short period, the alcohol works on receptor sites that activate inhibitory neurotransmitters, “essentially slowing down our brains, making us relaxed, feel calm or down.”
But, “in essence, for every action a drug or alcohol has, our bodies will produce an equal and opposite reaction,” Bhatt said.
How To Prevent Hangover Anxiety
Although its possible to manage hangxiety to some degree, its even better to avoid it entirely. Simple steps to prevent hangxiety in the first place include eating before drinking, and following each alcoholic beverage with a glass of water. Research indicates that dehydration plays a role in anxiety and other mood changes, so staying hydrated will help prevent both hangover and hangxiety.
Its also helpful to drink less alcohol. The more you drink, the worse your hangover will be. Try pacing yourself, and setting a limit for the evening before you begin drinking. Go out with friends who would also like to limit their drinking, rather than friends who will drink to excess. This way, you can keep each other accountable while still having a fun evening.
Of course, this advice may seem obvious, but its often much easier said than done. If you struggle to drink in moderation, Ria Health can help. Our convenient, easy-to-use telemedicine platform gives you 24/7 access to the resources and support you need to change your relationship with alcohol. You set your own personal goals, and we help you achieve them.
Our program includes regular online coaching meetings, medical support, and handy digital tools that let you track your progress. We also offer medications like acamprosate, baclofen, and topiramate that rebalance GABA levels, treating both anxiety and alcohol cravings at once.
What Causes Panic Attacks After Drinking Alcohol
A panic attack, after alcohol or otherwise, is an episode of extreme anxiety where emotions are amplified and terrifying. A person may experience shortness of breath or hyperventilate and feel detached from reality. Their mind is overloaded with worrying thoughts and fears, even of things that do not present any clear and immediate danger.
There are several explanations why alcohol is responsible. If you look at the biological side of things, it is well-known that alcohol causes a number of physiological symptoms such as dehydration, low blood sugar, and elevated heart rate. These may make a person feel uneasy, dizzy, and irritable, and may lead to a panic attack. Its not just alcohol that causes this. Too much of some drugs such as, caffeine, or even sugar can prompt a similar response.
Because alcohol affects GABA, an inhibiting neurotransmitter in the brain, it does make a person feel calmer at first. It acts like a depressant and sedative. However, when the alcohol wears off, GABA levels decrease, triggering an anxious, exaggerated and overstimulated state.
Serotonin levels go up and down in a similar fashion. They go up when a person drinks, and crash when they stop. If a person drinks regularly, the natural GABA and serotonin levels can get destabilised, making withdrawal symptoms and anxiety attacks worse.
If blackouts are involved, the extra stress of the unknown, especially if poor judgement was involved, can increase anxiety levels further.
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Focus On Hydration Before During And After Drinking
If you don’t feel reliant on alcohol and want to continue drinking occasionally in social situations, make sure you pay extra attention to your hydration levels. You can do this by increasing your water intake before, during and after ingesting alcohol of any form.
“This combats the dehydration caused by consuming alcohol. Drinking coconut water, which is high in electrolytes, is beneficial,” Blassingame recommends.
You may have more frequent trips to the restroom but you’ll also feel better in the A.M.
But There Are Psychological Reasons For Feeling Anxiety Post
For some drinkers, the hangover anxiety is almost as predictable as the pounding headache and queasy stomach, says Hafeez. The heart-racing, sweaty-palmed, antsy-stomach feeling is often related to worrying about the consequences of a blackout, or of being in a state of mind where there are holes in your memory and fears about things you said or did.
Thoughts of, what did I say to my boss?, or, did I approach the person I like? come flooding into your mind, and the anxiety surrounding what you said or did to embarrass yourself might be the culprit. Other times, Hafeez says, the hangxiety might not be related to anything specific, and might just be an overall feeling of uneasiness.
Sometimes, because people tend to use alcohol as a social lubricant, the anxiety comes creeping back in as soon as the alcohol starts to wear off. Anxiety and depression are often related to alcohol abuse, because the person has more anxiety when theyre not drinking rather than drinking, Koob notes.
In other cases, someone may still have anxiety when they are drinking, but according to Hafeez, just two drinks is enough to relax the brainat least temporarily, anyway.
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Who Is More Prone To Alcohol
Some folks are calm, cool, collected and typically unphased by change or uncertainty. Others, however, would call themselves nervous by nature.
If you’re in the latter group, Blassingame says you’re more likely to experience anxiety after drinking alcohol.
Additionally, people who have health complications, including autoimmune disease or hypoglycemia, have a higher chance of feeling the jitters after heavy drinking because alcohol makes these conditions worse, she says.
“People who have weakened immune systems already have diverted biological resources to remove toxins from the body efficiently,” Blassingame says. “Further impairing these processes through alcohol ingestion increases the symptoms, like anxiety and the general feeling of being hungover or ‘worn down.'”
Also, if you’re relatively healthy, eat a balanced diet and are physically active, you probably won’t be as affected by hangover anxiety. But, Blassingame says, it’s more difficult for the body to process alcohol efficiently if you’re already struggling physically and mentally.
“People who are isolated, eat a diet high in carbohydrates and do not get enough exercise or sunshine tend to be much more susceptible to alcohol-induced anxiety and depression,” she says.
Hangxiety: What Causes That Day
As a single 30-something living in New York City, I spend my fair share of time at bars, restaurants or apartment get-togethers all of which typically include sipping at least a few a cocktails or glasses of wine.
Lately, though, Ive experienced more than the predictable next-day headache and nausea Ive had pangs of anxiety, worry and even panic that linger for a day or two. Its not about regret from the night before, but rather a vague, cant-put-my-finger-on-it sense of unease.
Im no stranger to anxiety, and I know Im not alone in experiencing this strange sense of dread the day after drinking according to my friends and the Internet. In one survey, about 23 percent of people say theyve experienced “hangxiety,” aka the negative mental and emotional effects of a hangover. More proof: #hangxiety has more than 27 million views on TikTok and 62,000 search results on Google.
To find out whats really happening in our brains as we drink, I sought the advice of Uma Naidoo, MD, a nutritional psychiatrist and author of This Is Your Brain on Food, and Carolyn Brown, MS RD, nutritionist and co-founder of Indigo Wellness Group.
Turns out that while it may sound like a made-up term, hangxiety is a real bio-chemical reaction to alcohol. Luckily, there are ways to minimize its effects.
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Whos Most At Risk For Hangxiety
Anyone can experience these doomsday feelings after drinking, however, people with anxiety disorders, especially social anxiety disorder, may be more likely to experience the anxiety-inducing effects of alcohol, according to Naidoo. This also means these folks should be aware of the signs of alcohol use disorder.
Some red flags that could point to alcohol use disorder: interference with work life, negative effects on personal relationships, suggestions from others that you cut back on alcohol, finding yourself in dangerous situations due to alcohol use or feeling like you need it more than want it.
How Alcohol Affects Your Brain And Body
Many of us have felt the urge to reach for a beer or glass of wine to take the edge off after a stressful day and for good reason: There is some truth to the idea that alcohol can help you relax, says Naidoo. Alcohol acts as a depressant of the central nervous system it works by slowing our brain activity down, she explains, which is why some find it helpful to soothe anxiety or aid in falling asleep.
But calm is not the only effect alcohol has on our body and mind. When we drink, we change the effects of many neurotransmitters in the brain, explains Naidoo. Dopamine pathways fire more, which may explain that good mood when youre out having a drink, while the activity of GABA is also heightened, which helps you feel relaxed.
At the same time, our brains stimulatory system is suppressed , and other neurotransmitters, such as mood-boosting serotonin, are thrown out of balance.
Alcohol can also wreak havoc on your blood sugar balance, says Brown much in the same way that eating simple carbs or refined sugars can lead to a spike followed by a subsequent dip in both your energy and your mood. Alcohol works the same way by creating a heightened sense of calm or relaxation followed by a heightened sense of stress and anxiety in the aftermath.
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Why Do You Feel Guilty After Drinking
It is common knowledge that alcohol can cause dehydration, but this dehydration doesn’t just cause you to feel more thirsty and lightheaded. When dehydration kicks in, your body goes into defense mode, causing you to feel more anxious. The more you drink and the sicker you feel, the more this defense is increased, which results in you feel more anxious and guilty about the night before.
Drinking the wrong drinks
Darker liquors will leave you with a more severe hangover in the morning, which will result in more guilt. Drinking mixed drinks that contain a lot of sugar or even caffeine will also increase your anxiety in the morning. The guilt and anxiety you feel in the morning is your body’s way of reminding you that what you are drinking is have a serious negative impact on your health.
Drinking too much
You will feel even worse the more you drink. The guilt you feel from a night of drinking is your mind and body’s response and warning that you might be drinking too much. The anxiety acts as a direction to get you not to focus so much on the hangover but more on the idea that you need to cut back on your drinking.
You’re being hard on yourself
You care about what others may think
Drinking in general
Avoid Or Reduce Your Alcohol Intake
This is the biggest no-brainer to avoid booze-related anxiety: Don’t drink.
As Blassingame explains, you won’t feel those symptoms if you’re sober. If you do, it’s likely general anxiety, and you can find treatment in the form of therapy, medications or stress-management techniques.
If you feel like you can’t go without alcohol, consider reaching out to a mental health professional for help.
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Depression And Mental Health After Drinking
Not everything related to the development of anxiety is going to be easy to understand. One of the things we know about the brain after alcohol use is that it’s not uncommon for depression and anxiety to feel worse. This is related to neurochemical changes, combined with some of our thoughts after a heavy night of drinking – making it feel even worse.
If you feel depressed and anxious after drinking, you have plenty of company. The surest remedy for the physical changes during alcohol withdrawal is time, but you can do some things to lessen the anxiety and ease some of your symptoms in the meantime.
How To Cope With ‘hangxiety’
While it may be impossible to completely calm yourself down when experiencing “hangxiety,” below are some measures you can take to make your experience a bit easier, as advised by the AAC.
- Stay calm and give yourself plenty of time to rest. Remind yourself that this is a temporary feeling that should subside once you’re feeling better.
- Participate in a self-help group like Alcoholics Anonymous if you feel like you need help.
- Learn more about anxiety, exploring whether your anxiety is caused or made worse by alcohol use.
- Reduce or stop drinking if you are continually distressed by alcohol-induced anxiety or if your drinking habits are interfering with your daily life.
The AAC explains seeking professional treatment such as therapy is important because the alcohol-induced anxiety symptoms will “still be lurking around the corner” if the underlying triggers or causes, from past trauma to other mental health conditions, are not addressed.
For more information about treatment for alcohol-related issues, see the NIAAA Alcohol Treatment Navigator at the NIAAA website to find a highly qualified professional treatment provider near you. You can also
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Traditional Ways Of Treating Anxiety
Many treatment options exist for anxiety.
Treatment may depend on the type of anxiety you have. If you have social anxiety or a social phobia, therapy may work best to reduce your levels of anxiety . If you have generalized anxiety disorder , an ongoing feeling of worry or stress without a specific cause, your doctor may recommend learning behaviors or skills to help you stop avoiding activities because of anxiety , or talking about your anxiety with a therapist.
Your doctor may also prescribe medications.