Hangxiety: Why Alcohol Gives You A Hangover And Anxiety
If you are looking forward to your first stiff drink after a dry January, be warned: it may feel bittersweet. You may feel you deserve an alcoholic beverage after toughing it out all month but have you forgotten what it feels like to wake up haunted by worries about what you said or did the night before? These post-drinking feelings of guilt and stress have come to be known colloquially as hangxiety. But what causes them?
David Nutt, professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College, London, is the scientist who was fired in 2009 as the governments chief drug adviser for saying alcohol is more dangerous than ecstasy and LSD. I tell him I have always assumed my morning-after mood was a result of my brain having shrivelled like a raisin through alcohol-induced dehydration. When Nutt explains the mechanics of how alcohol causes crippling anxiety, he paints an even more offputting picture.
Alcohol, he says, targets the Gaba receptor, which sends chemical messages through the brain and central nervous system to inhibit the activity of nerve cells. Put simply, it calms the brain, reducing excitement by making fewer neurons fire. Alcohol stimulates Gaba, which is why you get relaxed and cheerful when you drink, explains Nutt.
However, the studys findings have wider implications after all, most drinkers lean on alcohol as social lubrication to some degree.
Annie Answers Why Do I Have Anxiety After Drinking
The racing mind. Feeling like youre crawling out of your own skin. General restlessness and unease. Thats what tends to hit after a night of drinking. Anxiety after drinking is a common problem and one we tend to brush off until weve decided to stop or cut back. Why do we feel anxiety after drinking and how can we deal with it?
After a night of heavy drinking, its common to get severe anxiety the next day. In fact, it can even last days or even weeks past the night of heavy drinking. Is that anxiety still related to the drinking, and whats causing it? Is it mental or chemical or what?
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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Ways To Get In Contact With Us
If you believe you or someone you love may be struggling with addiction, let us hear your story and help you determine a path to treatment.
There are a variety of confidential, free, and no obligation ways to get in contact with us to learn more about treatment.
Get Curious About Your Drinking Habits
If you often feel anxious after drinking, it may be worth giving your drinking behaviors some closer examination.
Anxiety can happen for a lot of reasons, but one possible cause could relate to alcohol use itself. To put it another way, you might have some awareness, whether its conscious or not, of alcohols less-than-positive effects on your mental health.
Maybe you realize youve started drinking a bit more to feel the same buzz. Or youre turning to alcohol to ease tension and unwind most days, rather than once in a while. If you drink before you drive or start work, you might also feel anxious about someone noticing your alcohol use.
Over time, these habits may not only worsen anxiety after drinking. They might also create some major challenges, both for your health and in your daily life.
If alcohol use causes a problem, it is a problem, Turner emphasizes.
Working with a trained therapist or recovery professional can help you start some deeper analysis of any drinking behaviors youd like to change, plus begin to identify any underlying concerns that might play a part in your anxiety.
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How Does Drinking Alcohol Affect Anxiety
Alcohol acts as a sedative, so it can help you feel more at ease. It may make you feel more socially confident at a party or help you forget your worries.
However, these benefits are short term. When we drink alcohol it disrupts the balance of chemicals and processes in the brain. The relaxed feeling you experience when you have your first drink is due to the chemical changes alcohol causes in your brain. The alcohol starts to depress the part of the brain that we associate with inhibition5.
But these effects wear off fast and the pleasant feelings fade. If you rely on alcohol to mask your anxiety problems, you may find you become reliant on it to relax, which may lead to alcohol addiction.A likely side-effect of this is that the more you drink the greater your tolerance for alcohol will be. Over time you may need to drink more alcohol to get the same feeling. In the long term this pattern of alcohol use may affect your mental health.
Many people believe that having an alcoholic drink will help them feel more relaxed. However, if youre experiencing anxiety, drinking alcohol could be making things worse.
Alcohol Acts As A Depressant
You might feel depressed after drinking because alcohol itself is a depressant.
Drinking activates the reward system in your brain and triggers dopamine release, so alcohol often seems to have a stimulating effect at first.
Dopamine produces positive emotions that make you feel good and help reinforce your desire to drink, but alcohol affects your central nervous system in other ways, too.
Namely, it interferes with the release of neurotransmitters linked to mood regulation, including serotonin and norepinephrine.
Lower-than-normal levels of these important chemical messengers can temporarily affect your speech, coordination, and energy.
The long-term impact, however, can be more serious: Persistent changes in brain chemistry can factor into depression and anxiety over time.
To sum up: Even though it seems to improve your mood in the moment, alcohol can actually bring you down, especially with long-term use.
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Why Does Hangxiety Happen
Not everyone experiences hangover anxietysome people just feel achy or have an upset stomachbut its a relatively common symptom of a hangover. The symptoms you experience after a night of heavy drinking tend to be milder versions of what clinical alcohol withdrawal looks like, explains Michael Bogenschutz, M.D., a professor in the Department of Psychiatry at NYU Grossman School of Medicine. So, the morning after a night of hard partying, you may feel sick to your stomach, nauseated, irritable, and anxious. Someone who drinks heavily oftenand then stopped suddenlywould experience more severe versions of those symptomsvomiting, diarrhea, maybe even a panic attack. In other words, hangover anxiety can be one of these subclinical symptoms of withdrawal. George F. Koob, Ph.D., director of theNational Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism agrees: I think of a hangover as, more or less, a mini-withdrawal from alcohol, and anxiety is one of the components, he tells SELF.
When you drink alcohol, dopamine neurons in areas of the brain associated with reward start firing more and more, explains Aparna Iyer, M.D., a psychiatrist and assistant professor at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. The problem is that dopamine rush is short-lived with alcohol, Dr. Iyer says. Thats part of why your mood and anxiety levels might be impacted for the worse later on.
When To Get Help With Your Drinking
Because of the immediate relaxing effects of alcohol, many people with anxiety and other mental health issues are drawn to alcohol as a way to self-medicate. And while it may offer some short-term relief, alcohol is not an effective long-term strategy for anxiety, depression, trauma, or other mental health issues. In fact, it can worsen all of these conditions.
Using alcohol to self-medicate is risky. Over time, your tolerance to alcohol increases, which means you need more and more of it to get the experience of ease and relief. Many people with anxiety are also prone to alcohol use disorder .
No matter how much alcohol you consume, if your drinking feels out of control, worries you, or worries those close to you, thats a good enough reason to seek help.
No matter what your circumstances, its never too lateor too earlyto reach out for assistance. There are many different ways to get help with your drinking, which means theres probably at least one thatll work for you. Learn more about alcohol treatment options.
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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.
How To Manage Hangover Anxiety
Experts assure us that there are steps you can take to avoid suffering from anxiety after a night of drinking. Here’s how you can manage or even prevent hangxiety.
1. Limit your alcohol intake.
The most obvious answer to avoid hangxiety and hangovers in general, for that matter is to avoid drinking altogether. If you don’t want to completely cut alcohol out, though, limiting your alcohol intake is the next best option. Though it’s important to be aware of your own personal tolerance , Dr. Koob generally recommends limiting your alcohol intake in accordance to the dietary guidelines as advised by the CDC, which is up to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.
2. Hydrate and eat.
If you are planning to drink more than the recommended amount, however, it’s important to practice smart drinking behaviors like hydrating and eating plenty of food. Since alcohol is a diuretic , it has dehydrating effects on the body that leads to symptoms like headache, dizziness and dry mouth. “The dehydrating effects of alcohol can make worse, and having a headache or other symptoms certainly doesn’t help,” says Dr. Koob.
To help reduce the potential effects of alcohol-induced dehydration, Dr. Koob recommends continuously hydrating before, after and in between drinks, as well as making sure to get something in your stomach before drinking .
3. Take some medicine.
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Avoiding Hangover Anxiety Is About More Than Just Drinking Less
The obvious answer to avoiding hangovers in the first place is to drink less, which is easier said than done for some people. Whats super important is awareness of your personal tolerancenot only regarding how much is your limit, but what kinds of alcohol tend to send you over the edge or leave you feeling worse emotionally.
This may mean, for some people, you avoid mixing drinks and stick to one thing all night, or you avoid hard liquor, Hafeez suggests. You also want to tune into how you’re pacing yourself when you drink, and consume water with your alcoholic beverages to stay in control.
Along with self-regulation, try to practice mindfulness as you drink. Have a convo with yourself in which you predict how you will feel the next day, both physically and emotionally, and go from there. Chances are you dont want to feel wired, grouchy, or sad the next day, and if you remind yourself of this as you’re imbibing, you may be more likely to go slow and not overdo it.
Doing a dry January or other abstinence period may also be a helpful experiment if you find that you feel better mentally, or less groggy, anxious, or that you sleep better without drinking, it may be worth reducing your alcohol intake.
So How Do You Best Avoid Experiencing Alcohol Anxiety
The obvious answer would be to avoid drinking alcohol, as many have reported that they are better able to cope with their anxiety as a result.
If youre wondering whether staying dry and avoiding alcohol will make a difference to how you feel, then take note from research by Londons Royal Free Hospital. They monitored 102 men and women who were regular drinkers during a month of no drinking.
They found substantial improvements not only with liver function but also in the quality of sleep. The Independent has reported that alcohol holds back glutamine which keeps you awake. Once youve stopped drinking , the body floods the body with glutamine trying to wake you up making it more difficult to get a good nights sleep.
If you suffer from anxiety, wouldnt it be better to just give it up? And can you? Its worth some serious thought.
Addressing Anxiety While Managing Your Drinking
Lets take a closer look at these neurotransmitters. Dopamine acts on the pleasure centers of the brain. Its released in the brain after consuming alcohol, which causes a euphoric feeling immediately after drinking. Over time and with continued use, the brain begins to associate drinking alcohol with pleasure. If this association is strong enough, dopamine may be released when even just thinking of alcohol. Then, after drinking, even more dopamine is released. If youve wondered, why do I crave alcohol? this dopamine interaction is a key driver of cravings.
In addition to dopamine, serotonin also affects our mood. More specifically, decreased levels of serotonin can lead to depression. This is why people with depression often take serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as Zoloft and Prozac to increase their levels of circulating serotonin. SSRIs can improve mood and resolve depressive symptoms. Because serotonin is a mood stabilizing neurotransmitter, decreased levels can lead to anxiety. While excessive alcohol use can lead to a surge in serotonin, a sharp decline follows. This decline when sobering up contributes to hangxiety. Regardless of how often you drink, whether thats binge drinking, daily drinking, or other types of drinking habits, youre susceptible to this common serotonin interaction.