Hangxiety: Hangover Anxiety
Most people are aware of what a hangover is and may have even experienced the symptoms of a hangover firsthand. What immediately comes to mind when we think of a hangover are the clear physical consequences that come with the consumption of too much alcohol. These symptoms include headache, nausea, weakness, extreme dehydration, excess sweating, and sensitivity to loud noises and bright light. As if those are not bad enough, some people who have had a long night of drinking may experience emotional symptoms, too. The “Sunday blues” are common among most of the population, but depression and sadness may linger long after a Saturday night of abundant alcohol consumption. Additionally, anxiety may also arise with physical hangover symptoms, a phenomenon commonly referred to as hangxiety.
What is Hangxiety?
Most people feel lethargic and have less excitement than they usually do on a typical day when they are hungover, but they may also experience underlying anxiety associated with drinking that is different than the typical hangover mindset. Hangxiety is a sense of dread or worry after a night of drinking. Hangxiety may take the form of frantically playing back everything that one said or did the night before, concerned about having said something to embarrass oneself or cause offense. These feelings are more than a hangover. These feelings are hangxiety.
Hangxiety can linger longer than a hangover. In fact, hangxiety can cause more issues than the drinking that initially sparked it in the first place. The negative post-drinking feelings of shame, worry, and stress can be impactful enough to cause an ongoing cycle. If the individual experiencing hangxiety is struggling with addiction, then the symptoms of hangxiety could be a threat to their health, compound their drinking problem, and give the individual more of a reason to medicate their anxiety with more alcohol.
What Do People Get Hangovers?
What causes hangxiety? And is there a way to prevent such feelings after a night of drinking? Let us investigate first why alcohol gives people a hangover. More often than not, a crazy night out with friends ends in a crazy miserable morning. Even when people enjoy their evening, they can still hate their hangover. The morning after, people may claim that they will never drink again or ask themselves why they would consume something that would make them feel so sick.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, there are several factors that contribute to hangovers. When alcohol is consumed, the human body, mostly the liver, metabolizes alcohol. In the midst of this alcohol metabolization, the body releases the chemical acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is toxic and causes inflammation throughout the body, especially in the gastrointestinal tract, pancreas, liver, and of course, the brain. Inflammation is the cause of all sorts of illnesses, and it is likely the culprit of a hangover too.
Alcohol is also very dehydrating. Dehydration leads to headache, thirst, and fatigue. In addition, dehydration irritates the lining of the stomach, which can lead to nausea and vomiting. Excessive consumption of alcohol disrupts sleep and further contributes to fatigue and lethargy. As the brain attempts to reset homeostasis after a night of drinking, the body is actually experiencing a “mini-withdrawal” from alcohol. During this time, the nervous system is temporarily impacted, affecting our mood.
What Causes Anxiety After Drinking?
The brain’s effort to chemically rebalance itself after drinking is the main factor in hangxiety. Like many addictive substances, alcohol affects neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins. At first, this chemical change in the brain can cause a short-lived rush of euphoria.
As these pleasurable neurotransmitters fade over time since last consumption, all of the feelings and problems that faded with drinking begin to resurface. When such feelings resurface, the individual could feel an overwhelming amount of depressive and anxious feelings. On top of these feelings, if the drinking caused any unfortunate, unpleasant, or regrettable events, then there are even more unpleasant feelings to acknowledge and work through the morning after a night out.
Additionally, alcohol stimulates the production of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), an inhibitory neurotransmitter that slows and calms the brain. In fact, medication prescribed for anxiety and insomnia is also designed to increase this brain chemical. This neurotransmitter explains why individuals feel relaxed after a few drinks.
Then, after a couple more drinks, the brain also begins to block an excitatory neurotransmitter called glutamate. Many studies have shown that glutamate is linked to anxiety. When this neurotransmitter is blocked, this generally makes the individual feel even more relaxed, especially for those individuals who already struggle with general or social anxiety. This can make it feel as though the constant chatter in the brain is finally quieted.
The brain eventually begins to rebalance these chemicals, blocking GABA and producing higher levels of glutamate. In time, this results in a swing from calm to anxiety. Hangxiety can also become elevated when the individual begins to recall embarrassing or unpleasant moments from the night before.
How Common is Hangover Anxiety
Hangxiety is common but is not universal like the hangover. Hangxiety, however, can happen to anyone but is more prevalent among people who have depression or anxiety and for individuals who are shy. Individuals with anxiety experience temporary relief of their symptoms when drinking, however, they will experience much worse feelings of anxiety once the effect wears off.
Studies also show that people who experience shyness and anxiety may be at greater risk for developing alcohol use disorder (AUD). It has also been shown that these individuals are also more likely to relapse and may experience more withdrawal symptoms.
Can You Relieve Hangover Anxiety
Fortunately, for people who experience unbearable hangxiety, there are a few ways to lessen or prevent anxiety the day after drinking. Addressing the physical symptoms of one’s hangover can make one feel better psychologically. Following through with the standard hangover procedures like drinking water, sleeping, eating a light meal, and taking a medication like ibuprofen, in addition to self-care, can make the hangover easier and less likely to worsen into hangxiety. Relaxation techniques, such as meditation and deep breathing, can help relax the body and mind, noticing and accepting thoughts without judging them.
Doing something that one loves, such as listening to calming music or an enjoyable activity like writing, reading, painting, or going for a walk, can also help lessen post-drinking anxiety. The most important thing to do when enduring hangxiety is to try to not focus on what may have gone wrong the night before. It could also help to remember that others are probably feeling the same way, and they likely did not notice or do not even recall what was said or did. It could also help to talk to a trusted friend that was present the night before and discuss with them about one’s worries.
Although it is possible to manage anxiety symptoms to some degree, there is a way to avoid anxiety after drinking. In order to prevent hangxiety in the first place, aside from abstaining from alcohol altogether, lessening the chances of a hangover helps. Simple tips include eating before drinking and following each alcoholic drink with a glass of water. Research also indicates that dehydration plays a role in anxiety and other mood changes, so staying hydrated will help prevent both hangovers and hangxiety.
At Boardwalk Recovery Center, we believe that the most successful way to avoid such emotional turmoil in relation to substance use is to stop drinking altogether. Clearly, the more one drinks, the worse one’s hangover, and hangxiety will be.