Experiencing a hangover after heavy drinking is nothing new. Nearly everyone who drinks knows what a hangover feels like –in fact, it’s become almost a badge of honor after a party or night out. The common symptoms – nausea, a pounding headache, and a sensitivity to light are so well known they’re sometimes joked about and accepted as the natural consequences of heavy drinking.
Lately, however, another symptom has been getting attention. Hangover anxiety or hangxiety for short.
Several people report experiencing a high level of anxiety after drinking a lot of alcohol. To better understand this, think of a hangover as the physical consequences of drinking while hangover anxiety is the psychological part of a hangover.
Common symptoms of hangxiety include irritability, fatigue, nervousness, sweating, an increased heart rate, trouble sleeping, rapid breathing, feeling weak, difficulty concentrating on things, and feeling on edge.
What Causes Hangover Anxiety?
Yes, hangover anxiety is a real thing but what causes it?
When you drink alcohol, your liver metabolizes it to acetaldehyde – a toxic compound that causes inflammation. This coupled with dehydration brought about by alcohol consumption makes you sick and brings on the common symptoms associated with a hangover.
Hangover anxiety starts off the same way but the effects are mostly psychological i.e. anxiety or depression. While a hangover lasts for 24 hours or less, hangover anxiety can go on for days after consuming alcohol.
Hangxiety is still a fairly new concept so scientists haven’t yet pinned down why it happens but here are some of the most common theories:
- Disruption of normal brain functions – alcohol increases the production of feel-good brain chemicals including serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins leading to the euphoria that comes with drinking. However, as the brain rebalances these chemicals and they recede, the euphoria reduces, giving way to anxiety or depression.
Additionally, alcohol is thought to block glutamate which is a neurotransmitter that is linked to anxiety. Blocking it means that you experience less anxiety as you drink. Unfortunately, as the level of alcohol in your blood falls, the brain releases more glutamate taking you from feeling blissful to feeling anxious.
- Low blood sugar – drinking results in a drop in blood sugar which can leave you feeling shaky, dizzy, confused, nervous, and anxious.
- Dehydration – alcohol is known to dehydrate your body and this may lead to nausea, lightheadedness, fatigue, and anxiety.
- Heart palpitations – alcohol may speed up your heart rate, causing palpitations which may in turn increase your anxiety.
- Inability to focus – drinking alcohol is known to mess with your memory and ability to focus. This can leave you disoriented and trigger paranoia and anxiety.
- Social anxiety –some shy people use alcohol to help them relax and loosen up, especially in social situations. Alcohol inhibits their natural shyness and as it wears off, their normal feelings of anxiety and shyness return.
Managing Hangover Anxiety
Some of the ways you can manage hangover anxiety are similar to how you’d manage a hangover. Here are some of them:
- Avoid taking more alcohol –taking more alcohol when trying to relieve hangxiety is just adding more fuel to the fire. Don’t do it no matter how bad you feel because it will only make things worse.
- Take OTC painkillers –Over-the-counter pain-relieving medication can relieve muscle pains or a bad headache. While taking OTC painkillers ensure that you stick to the recommended dose. Some of these medicines e.g. aspirin or ibuprofen can increase the production of acid in the stomach leading to nausea or vomiting. They may also irritate the stomach lining leading to bleeding especially when combined with alcohol.
- Rehydrate – As mentioned earlier, alcohol dehydrates the body, setting off a range of symptoms including mood swings and anxiety. Ideally, when drinking you should drink equal parts of water and alcohol but few remember to do this. Taking enough water when experiencing hangxiety can help calm you down. Remember to also take a beverage with plenty of electrolytes to replenish those you lost from drinking.
- Get enough sleep – Lack of sleep or poor sleep quality often makes anxiety worse. Unfortunately, drinking alcohol doesn’t provide a peaceful sleep. Getting enough sleep, at least 7-8 hours’ worth, gives your body enough time to repair itself. Sleep is vital for the brain to rebalance the neurotransmitters and chemicals that were disrupted by alcohol. If you find it hard to sleep, try listening to some music or taking a bath.
- Eat light meals – While eating might be the last thing on your mind when experiencing a hangover or hangxiety, it’s important to nourish your body. Eating foods such as crackers, dry toast, bananas or broth can also help settle a queasy stomach. Avoid eating greasy or processed foods, even though you crave them.
- Practice self-care – A great way to calm yourself when experiencing hangover anxiety is by doing breathing exercises, yoga, or meditating. This helps slow down your heart rate and steady your breathing, which in turn reduces your anxiety.
- Put things into perspective – Rehashing what you did or what happened the previous night is likely to worsen your hangxiety. While some regret and embarrassment may be inevitable depending on what went on, avoid fixating on what happened and instead chalk it up to experience and do your best to put it out of your mind. Worrying and obsessing about it won’t change things so move on.
Seek Help Today
If you frequently experience hangover anxiety or are struggling to control how much you drink, perhaps it’s time to seek professional help. There’s no shame in admitting that you need help to cut back on your drinking or to quit altogether and the earlier you do it, the better before things get out of control.
If you are worried about your drinking, reach out to the Findlay Recovery Center. Our drug and alcohol rehab in Ohio offers various addiction treatment programs to those affected by addiction. This includes a residential treatment for alcohol addiction and a different one for those addicted to drugs.
We’d be happy to help you beat addiction.