Hangovers Cause Anxiety? And What Exactly is Hangover Anxiety?
It's early morning after a night out, and you've woken up with hangover symptoms, and you are dreading what you might have said or done the night before. These hangover symptoms can include nausea, a queasy stomach, a pounding headache, and dehydration. For some of us, this is all we experience with a bad hangover. However, some of us can feel stress and anxiety after a night out of drinking. Your stress and anxiety is not due to fuzzy recollections of inappropriate behavior – you are just feeling anxious for no specific reason, right? Well, there is a chemical reason behind it, and you are not alone. This is known as Hangover Anxiety.
Hangxiety (that’s hangover anxiety) is a very real phenomenon. This alcohol-induced anxiety can last for several hours, or even for an entire day after drinking alcohol. The sensation of hangxiety isn't just a theory, there has been scientific research into why hangover anxiety happens, and what is actually happening to our bodies when we feel anxious after drinking.1 But why does a night of celebration leave you feeling this way?
In a few words, it has to do with our adrenaline levels. When we consume alcoholic drinks, we tend to lose our inhibitions, and the self-critical part of our brain isn’t speaking to us as much. As the alcohol leaves our system in the early morning, our adrenal systems start to reactivate to help us remove the toxins from our bodies, and therefore leaving our adrenaline pumping harder. And this process is what makes us feel on edge, anxious or paranoid.
How Alcohol Increases Anxiety
During alcohol’s hangover anxiety, you begin to experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms similar to the feelings people who are dependent on alcohol may have. These symptoms can be psychological such as feeling depressed or anxious – this is because you are withdrawing from alcohol.
The positive feelings experienced from drinking — such as relief, peace and relaxation — may be attributable to the blood alcohol content (BAC). But just as feelings of excitement can result from rising BAC, a drop in BAC can bring on feelings of depression. In some cases, this emotional roller coaster can heighten hangover anxiety.2
In scientific terms, alcohol consumption affects brain chemistry by lowering the level of serotonin. This natural message-sender in the body impacts mood, sleep and memory — key stabilizing elements that contribute to healthy bodies and sound minds. The lower the serotonin level, the worse a person’s sleep, mood and memory are likely to be. The higher the serotonin level, the better each of these areas will function.3
Since serotonin is related to the perception of pain, hunger, and thirst, as well as mood regulation, it can seriously impact thought patterns and behavior – not just during the period of drinking, but long after, as well.
Who is more likely to experience hangxiety?
People who are already predisposed to anxiety and have experienced anxiety before are more likely to experience hangover anxiety. People who experience social anxiety6 are likely to experience hangxiety. Alcohol helps them relax and socialize more when they are feeling nervous before a social event or gathering. Two drinks or a blood alcohol concentration of 0.005 will increase relaxation and decrease shyness. However, once the alcohol effects wear off, the initial feelings of anxiety return.5 And because alcohol does affect women more than men, women may be more likely than men to be affected by hangover anxiety. But new research has found that very shy people are more likely to have anxiety, possibly at debilitating levels, during a hangover.4 The findings also suggest that for these people, "hangxiety" might signal a higher risk of alcohol dependence.
How Do I Stop or Reduce Hangover Anxiety?
To reduce hangover anxiety in general:
- Get enough sleep – Six to eight hours a night is recommended.
- Control the caffeine you drink– In addition to limiting alcohol intake, don’t overdo caffeine, especially late in the day.
- Eat smart, balanced meals – Make healthy choices about what to eat at regular intervals throughout the day.
- Feed your spirit – Establish a routine of relaxation techniques, such as meditation or yoga.
- Work it out physically – Exercise can do wonders for a person’s outlook and self-concept.
- Take your vitamins - B-complex vitamins can be helpful when it comes to keeping your mood lifted and stabilized. Hangover supplements with B vitamins may help.
1. Moral Emotions the Day After Drinking, Eivind Grip Fjær
2 Alcohol and Anxiety. Healthline, medically reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, PhD, CRNP, November 30, 2016.
3 5 Ways Alcohol Worsens Anxiety. Anxiety, Panic & Health, October 21, 2016.
5 Insight Into Action Therapy, Cyndi Turner
6 Social Anxiety Order, Healthline, medically reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, PhD, CRNP, January 19, 2016.