Maybe you can relate? Have you ever experienced waking up after a night of drinking and having what has become known as a ‘hangxiety’? In this article, we will discuss how a hangover with anxiety comes about and give you some useful tips.
Hangover anxiety or ‘Hangxiety’
Hangxiety is not just a cute sounding name, it actually refers to the physical and emotional experience that you have from hangover. This includes hangover anxiety or even feelings of depression during the day or days after drinking alcohol.
A Hangover, of course, includes those familiar physical symptoms of dry mouth, headache, fatigue, dizziness, and decreased concentration. A hangover can also leave you feeling emotionally tired with anxiety.
I’m sure you may have, at some point, experienced a hangover. There are many articles online that provide help and tips to deal with a hangover. It is common to joke about hangovers. How often have you heard people boast or tell of their drinking antics? Who’s not been to a wedding where the best man has given a speech talking about the bridegroom’s antics of alcohol, hangovers and drinking episodes?
Hangover anxiety is a real, yet unrecognised, challenge for many
However, this phenomenon of a hangover anxiety is an important anxiety condition to be aware of. It’s no laughing matter. We often think that consuming alcohol is harmless. Yet for some people it can exacerbate anxiety or even, in certain situations, cause anxiety as well. If you’ve ever experienced hangover anxiety, you will know that it’s a serious condition. In the morning you wake up, with not just with a heavy head, but you might also have unpleasant feelings in your stomach and even may have digestive or bowel symptoms, such as diarrhoea or constipation. Hangover anxiety includes experiencing paranoid thoughts or worrying thoughts. These might be about what you might have done during the evening before or about yourself or about feeling out of control around alcohol.
Hangover anxiety due to blackouts
People who drink to excess may also experience blackouts. Blackouts are extremely dangerous episodes where you drink so much that you are unaware of what you were doing. It is unfortunately common for alcoholics to have blackouts. To the outside observer (and to themselves) during an alcohol blackout, they’ll be functioning normally, able to buy things online, drive a car, go shopping, and even talk to people. Yet a couple of days later, when the alcohol has worn off, they won’t remember a single thing that they have done during that blackout period. They won’t remember conversations or buying any of those items online. Blackouts are a very worrying aspect of alcohol binge drinking.
Unfortunately excess drinking to blackout can, in some situations, lead to sexual assaults. This is so since people think they have someone’s consent to sex, because on the face of it, they appear able to do so. However being so intoxicated, they are not able to make good decisions at all or give consent.
Malcolm Gladwell, in his book, Talking to Strangers, discusses, at great length, giving ‘consent’ to sexual activity and the problem of alcohol blackouts. This is an interesting discussion for individuals and also for society at large. I highly recommend taking a look at that chapter and the book as a whole.
How does a hangover with anxiety come about?
Let’s return to alcohol hangover anxiety. As I’m sure you’ll agree, everybody responds to alcohol in a different way. So it could be that you can be free of having hangover anxiety. However, for those who might be prone to an anxiety disorder, hangover anxiety is certainly something to be concerned about.
Scientists explain that alcohol causes a physiological change in our bodies. And that begins almost immediately after you begin consuming alcohol. Once you start drinking, the levels of serotonin in the brain will alter. Serotonin is a chemical that regulates our mood and our ability to feel anxiety or depression.
Alcohol causes also an increase of dopamine to the brain. This increase in dopamine and the eventual comedown that you feel, will, of course, affect your mood too. You may be familiar from other activities that increase dopamine. These are normally pleasurable activities. This means that alcohol can change how we feel. Alcohol then might even cause feeling panic, depressed, impulsive feelings, or agitation or irritability. For many people alcohol is just a fun and carefree activity, something drunk with friends, to unwind or on the weekends, with few negative ramifications.
Alcohol binds to the GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid) receptors that are found within the brain. When it does this, it reduces the level of our energy and calms us. But this same effect can also cause your anxiety to increase. This is since alcohol is really a sedative for the nervous system. And in order to deal with this sedated effect, your system may go into a state of hyperarousal. As such, you may be more sensitive to light and sound and your sleep may also be affected.
I think we all know intuitively that, even though alcohol can help us fall asleep, often an alcohol induced sleep is not of a high quality. Alcohol, of course, affects our level of dehydration too and causes a drop in blood sugar as well as those familiar physical symptoms often associated with a hangover, such as nausea, shaking, confusion, dizziness, or fatigue. If those next day symptoms, after a binge drinking session, weren’t enough to deal with, you may have hangover anxiety as well.
Hangover anxiety can be related to feelings of shame or embarrassment
The emotional component of hangover anxiety can also be related to alcohol consumption decreasing our inhibitions. Under the influence of alcohol, you might act in ways that you regret or feel embarrassed or shame about the next day. In the moment, it was very fun to dance on the tables and to scream the lyrics of songs in the bar. On a more serious note you may have perhaps sent text messages you now regret or said things to people you feel regret about the next day also.
Alcohol can give you ‘Dutch courage’, doing things you wouldn’t ordinarily do. So, the next day, when you discover and see a video of yourself acting silly, or realise you sent those misjudged text messages, the inevitable feelings of shame or embarrassment may suddenly click in. Going back to the office the day after that office Christmas party, you hide your head, hoping nobody notices you. You might wish you could reverse the clock and do last night completely differently.
Hangover anxiety is something that, perhaps, we’ve all experienced to a little degree at some point. However, hangover anxiety for some is a real and serious problem. It means that they have to take a long hard look at their alcohol consumption. The more alcohol that we consume, the more the body will have to tolerate. But also can, counter intuitively mean that you experience a greater feeling of anxiety with smaller quantities of alcohol consumed. This means that a light drink might cause a small spike in anxiety.
Tips for reducing hangover anxiety
- Responsible drinking is always the key to reducing anxiety and the effects of alcohol.
- Anxiety can also be minimised by eating before you start to drink.
- After each drink, have a glass of water or simply reduce the amount of alcohol that you do consume.
- You might also wish to think about how your social life runs. Does it revolve around alcohol? Could there be other activities that you enjoy that you could do instead?
- Another important practice to consider is simply lowering anxiety levels in your life in general
- Learn deep breathing techniques, consider Mindfulness or other meditation practices
- Engage in healthy exercise on a regular basis.
- Notice what you eat and drink. Are you eating a balanced diet?
- Think about your relationship with alcohol. Do you drink in order to numb feelings or to forget about everyday concerns?
- If your life is stressful, consider dealing with the sources of stress.
- If you feel that your life is in a mess or needs to be somewhere different, consider what are the goals or ways that you can, in the near future, move your life to where you would truly like it to be.
- Reduce hangover anxiety by considering which alcoholic drinks you consume and in which order.
- Consider if your drinking is connected in any way to other compulsive behaviours, for example drug use.
- Ibuprofen. Though not the most exciting of remedies, you might consider taking over the counter painkillers to reduce a throbbing head or aches and pains.
- Dehydration from alcohol is, of course, a factor in having a hangover. As such consider some electrolyte drinks. These contain electrolytes and elements, such as potassium, sodium, and sugar. These drinks help to replenish your body and ease those dehydration related feelings of tiredness or headache.
- Sprite. Studies have shown that drinks similar to Sprite have helped with hangovers.
- Consider what you eat for breakfast the next day. After a big night out Cysteine is an amino acid that helps to break down acetaldehyde in the body. Consider having a breakfast that has a high amount of this Cysteine. Using ingredients such as meat, oatmeal, yogurt or eggs will be helpful. If however, you don’t fancy eating food due to your tummy and feeling unwell, perhaps consider other options.
- The best way to prevent a hangover and hangover anxiety is to drink less and moderate how much you drink. Drink more water in general and ensure you have, in general, good sleep. Consider different ways that you can reduce anxiety in your life, overall.
If you are concerned about your relationship with alcohol, I help many clients reduce dependency on alcohol. I use hypnotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and other therapy exercises. These will help you reduce hangover anxiety, look at your relationship with alcohol and importantly, move that relationship to where you’d like it to be.
To find out more about my sessions to help with anxiety in general, hangover anxiety and reducing alcohol consumption, get in touch today.
Disclaimer: This article is for information purposes only and should not be treated as professional medical advice. Always consult a trained medical professional about any symptoms you experience or about taking or stopping taking both prescription and over the counter medications.