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What is Hangover Anxiety (Hangxiety)?
Most people have experienced the typical physical hangover symptoms, like the pounding headache, nausea, and the craving for greasy food. But, hangover symptoms aren't always just physical. Hangovers can have psychological symptoms as well, especially feelings of anxiety. This phenomenon is happening so frequently it's even been given a name: hangxiety.
When a person drinks alcohol, dopamine floods into the brain's pleasure center. Dopamine is a feel-good chemical and it gives the person a "rush." However, it doesn't last very long. When dopamine levels start to go down, feelings of anxiety set in.
Additionally, heavy drinking causes an influx of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) which makes a person feel calm and relaxed. This becomes a "crutch" for chronic drinkers. When alcohol is taken out of the picture, GABA is no longer present. Thus, the feeling of calmness is also taken away. This also leads to anxiety.
Aside from these, there are other factors that may lead to hangover anxiety.
What Causes Hangover Anxiety?
Research has shown that anxiety is actually a pretty common hangover symptom. Someone may experience hangover anxiety for many of the same reasons they suffer from other hangover symptoms, including sleep deprivation and dehydration.
Here are the possible causes of hangover anxiety:
A lot of people who experience anxiety after consuming alcoholic beverages spend a lot of time the next day wondering and worrying about what they may have done or said while they were drunk. Decreased cognitive function, including a lowered ability to make good decisions, makes drunk people do things they otherwise would never do. Thinking about this out-of-character behavior and the embarrassing or unpleasant moments that may have happened after a night of heavy drinking can lead to serious anxiety.
Some people who suffer from a mental health issue like anxiety disorder may turn to alcohol to try and cope with the symptoms. As a result, they will feel more anxious when abstaining from alcohol. Some people with chronic anxiety have reported that their symptoms of anxiety are worse during a hangover. A lot of hangover symptoms, including dehydration, exhaustion, and upset stomach, can make anxiety symptoms feel worse, both physically and emotionally.
A study found that alcohol shows a unique link between shyness, alcohol consumption, alcohol use disorder, and anxiety. The researchers found that drinking led to slightly decreased feelings of anxiety among shy people. But, the next morning, they felt more intense anxiety levels. The researchers also found a link between alcohol use disorder and anxiety elevation among shy people in the study.
Alcohol use disorder
People with alcohol use disorder may experience withdrawal symptoms when they abstain from alcohol. Anxiety may also be a symptom of alcohol withdrawal. Some research suggests that people suffering from social anxiety disorder have a higher risk of displaying alcohol dependence or abuse signs.
How much alcohol was consumed
The risk of developing hangover-related anxiety may increase with how much alcohol a person consumes. This is because higher alcohol consumption increases other hangover risk factors, including dehydration.
A type of emotional withdrawal can occur after drinking. When endorphins (your body’s painkillers and feel-good hormones) are distributed in response to traumatic events, their levels reduce over several days. Drinking alcohol also encourages the release of endorphins and an eventual comedown. At first, consuming alcohol may seem to help ease any physical or emotional pain you are feeling. But it won’t make it go away.
Drinking alcohol tends to make people urinate more than usual. Plus, you likely do not drink enough water when you are drinking. This combination can lead to dehydration. Dehydration can contribute to anxiety and other shifts in mood.
Folic acid deficiency
Not consuming enough of the right nutrients can also affect mood symptoms. There is a link between low levels of folic acid and conditions like depression or anxiety. Alcohol can also lead your folic acid levels to go down, which may explain why you may feel anxious the next day. People are also more likely to eat foods that may trigger anxious feelings.
Specific medications, including some anxiety and anti-inflammatory medicines, may interact with alcohol. Your drugs may be less effective, and you may feel restless, irritated, or anxious. Some medicines also carry a risk of other side effects, such as memory impairment or severe physical health issues like ulcers or organ damage.
If you are taking any medications, check the label to ensure that it is safe to drink alcohol while taking them. The same goes for any herbal supplements, vitamins, and other over-the-counter medicines.
Alcohol intolerance is otherwise known as alcohol allergy. It can cause many symptoms that mimic the physical symptoms of anxiety, including nausea, rapid or pounding heartbeat, head pain, and fatigue. Other symptoms include sleepiness, excitability, warmth, and flushed and red skin, especially on your face and neck.
Alcohol can affect your sleep, even if you do not drink too much. Even if you get plenty of rest after drinking, it is unlikely to be of the best quality. This can leave you feeling a bit off.
If you live with anxiety, you are probably familiar with the following cycle with or without alcohol. That is, your anxiety symptoms worsen when you do not get enough sleep, but those same symptoms make it challenging to get a good night’s sleep. It is also possible to experience mood-related symptoms, like feelings of anxiety.
Symptoms of Hangxiety
People with hangover-related anxiety will likely also experience other "typical" hangover symptoms, including excessive thirst, increased fatigue, feeling slow or less alert, an upset stomach, or body aches.
They may also experience:
- A "knot in the stomach" feeling
- A racing heart
- Feelings of guilt and shame
- Restlessness making it hard to concentrate, sleep, or relax
Why Doesn't Everyone Get Hangover Anxiety?
Some people can wake up after drinking feeling relaxed and ready for the day ahead of them. Others may remain wrapped in a blanket, worrying about the previous night’s events.
Highly shy people may have a more significant risk of experiencing hangover anxiety. In a study of 97 people with varying levels of shyness, researchers found that those who drank alcohol saw some reduction in anxiety symptoms while drinking. But those who were very shy tended to experience higher levels of anxiety the next day.
Alcohol is renowned for making anxiety worse, so you may be more prone to hangover anxiety if you already had the condition to begin with.
People who suffer from anxiety and depression are more likely to experience hangxiety after consuming alcohol. Alcohol normally suppresses anxious feelings while a person is drinking. However, the rebound effect makes the anxiety worse than before.
How to Deal with Hangover Anxiety
When experiencing symptoms of anxiety after drinking, there are a few things people can do to manage the hangxiety, including:
- Manage physical symptoms — the common symptoms of a hangover can take a toll on the body. Dealing with the initial symptoms will help you get back to feeling like yourself. You should do this by focusing on rehydration and continuing to drink plenty of water the next day. Avoid cravings for greasy fast food and eat light, mild foods. It is also important to get some sleep while recovering from a hangover. If it's difficult to sleep, take a shower, and put on some relaxing music.
- Over-the-counter pain relief — when experiencing a pounding headache or other physical pains, take ibuprofen to help ease the discomfort.
How to Manage Symptoms of Hangover Anxiety
Some people find that deep breathing or meditation is very helpful for fighting feelings of anxiety while hungover. Deep, slow breathing allows you to relax and will help slow down a racing or pounding heart.
Mindfulness meditation is another relaxation technique that can help alleviate hangxiety. You can meditate while sitting or recovering in bed by practicing deep breathing. Lie down, close your eyes, and focus on your thoughts. Also, focus on any physical and emotional feelings in the current moment.
A significant part of hangxiety is caused by stressing out about what you might have said or done while drinking. It's a good idea to step back and realize that other people are likely worrying about the same thing.
How To Prevent Hangover Anxiety
There are ways to prevent hangover anxiety, including:
- Keep a log of anxiety episodes that follow drinking to understand whether certain situations or quantities of alcohol cause you stress.
- Drink plenty of water during and after alcohol consumption and avoid coffee and other stimulants that may enhance anxiety.
- Do not drink too quickly. Try to stick to one alcoholic drink per hour. If you tend to drink quickly, try enjoying a simple drink on the rocks that is better suited for sipping. The more alcohol you drink in a short span of time, the worse the hangxiety will be.
- Avoid drinking on an empty stomach. Have a snack or quick meal before you want to drink. If that does not fill you up, you can always eat while drinking or just before bed.
- Only drink with trusted friends to avoid people and places that may encourage behavior that you regret the next day. You may also decide to prevent hangover anxiety by reducing or eliminating alcohol altogether.
- Set yourself a limit. When you are in the moment and having fun, you may feel fine to keep drinking. However, those drinks will eventually catch up to you. Set a limit and stop drinking when you're reached that limit. To help you stick to it, try to partner with a friend so you can hold each other accountable.
Hangxiety: Common Questions and Answers
Why do I feel weird days after drinking?
Hangovers can linger if you don't focus on your overall wellness in the days after a night of drinking. It's especially important to get enough sleep when fighting off a hangover.
How do you stop hangover shakes?
People typically experience the hangover shakes after consuming a lot of alcohol. The best way to ease hangover shakes is by rehydrating, consuming vitamin B, and drinking sports drinks that contain electrolytes.
How long does hangover anxiety last?
Anxiety from a hangover is not usually long-lasting and should not last longer than a day. In cases where anxiety lasts much longer, it may be a sign of a different issue, such as alcohol withdrawal or another anxiety disorder.
Does drinking water help hangxiety?
A large part of fighting hangxiety is fighting hangover symptoms. The more water you drink to rehydrate yourself, the faster your hangxiety will go away. Try drinking Gatorade, Pedialyte, Powerade, or similar noncarbonated sports drinks for added electrolytes and minerals.
When can hangxiety indicate a problem?
Having frequent episodes of alcohol-induced anxiety (hangxiety) can indicate a problem, especially if it affects a person's functioning. When a person continues to drink despite this, it can become a basis for the diagnosis of an alcohol use disorder.
Treatment Options for Alcohol Abuse & Addiction
- Inpatient Programs — Inpatient treatment is the most intensive and effective option for alcohol addiction treatment. These programs usually last 30, 60, or 90 days, however they may be longer in certain cases. Throughout the duration of an inpatient program you will live on site in a safe, substance-free environment. You will go through medically supervised detoxification first, then behavioral therapy and other services will be added to your regimen. Many of these treatment programs will assist you with an aftercare program afterwards.
- Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs) — PHPs are the second most intensive alcohol addiction programs. They are sometimes referred to as intensive outpatient programs (IOPs). Partial hospitalization programs provide comparable services to inpatient programs. These may include detoxification, medical services, behavioral therapy, support groups, and other holistic or custom treatments. The main difference between PHPs and inpatient programs is that in a partial hospitalization program, you return home and sleep at your house. Some PHPs provide food and transportation, but this varies by program. PHPs are ideal for new patients, as well as patients who have completed an inpatient program and still require intensive treatment.
- Outpatient Programs — Outpatient programs are less intensive than inpatient programs and PHPs. They are best for people who are highly motivated to achieve sobriety and have responsibilities at work, home, or school. Outpatient treatment programs customize your treatment sessions around your personal schedule. Outpatient programs can help new patients achieve success. They may also be a part of aftercare programs once a patient completes an inpatient program or PHP.
- Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT) — Certain patients will qualify for medication-assisted therapy. Some medications can assist you throughout detoxification and withdrawal. Others can reduce cravings and normalize your bodily functions. Disulfiram (Antabuse), acamprosate (Campral), and naltrexone (Revia and Vivitrol) are the most common medications used to treat Alcohol Use Disorder. MAT can help prevent relapse and increase your chance of recovery if combined with other therapies.
- Support Groups — Support groups are peer-led organizations made of people dedicated to helping each other stay sober. They can be a first step towards sobriety or a component of an aftercare plan. Many of these programs follow the 12-step approach.