Understanding “Hangxiety” And How It Can Impact Mental Health

Medically reviewed by Majesty Purvis
Updated February 23, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.
“Hangxiety” is a term commonly used to describe feelings of anxiety and unease an individual may experience after a period of heavy drinking.

While a hangover typically refers more to the physical symptoms of significant alcohol consumption, hangxiety refers more to the potential mental effects. We’ll cover the symptoms and causes of this potential post-drinking effect, along with tips for managing it and/or reducing your alcohol consumption.

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Is alcohol worsening your anxiety symptoms?

What is hangxiety?

Hangxiety is not a clinical diagnosis, but rather a colloquial term that refers to symptoms of anxiety that a person may experience after significant alcohol consumption. It’s estimated that up to 12% of adults who drink experience anxiety as part of their hangover symptoms. Someone who already experiences some type of anxiety disorder may find that their symptoms are worse when hungover, since exhaustion, sleep deprivation, dehydration, and the cognitive effects of alcohol can decrease their ability to cope. Hangover-related anxiety may manifest as:

  • A rapid heartbeat
  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Restlessness
  • Feelings of dread
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Feelings of shame
  • Panic attacks

An individual may experience these in addition to physical hangover symptoms, such as fatigue, headache, nausea, sweating, increased blood pressure, excessive thirst, and muscle aches. Though the reason that some people experience hangxiety while others don’t is yet unknown, some research does suggest that those who are resistant to experiencing hangover symptoms in general after drinking are less likely to experience hangxiety as well.

The science behind hangxiety

Alcohol is a depressant that slows down the central nervous system, and it can take hours or even days for normal functioning to return. Until then, certain abilities—such as decision-making, memory, attention, and reaction times—are unlikely to be fully engaged, which may make dealing with any distressing emotion more difficult. Significant consumption of alcohol can also decrease the levels of dopamine in the brain the next day. Since this neurotransmitter appears to play a key role in controlling anxiety, its lack may result in hangxiety symptoms.

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Additional factors may also contribute to the likelihood that someone will experience hangover-related anxiety, or to the potential severity of their symptoms. For example, the concern that they may have done or said something they might regret and the inability to remember everything that happened could cause a person to feel increased levels of anxiety. Attempts to mitigate other hangover symptoms, such as consuming caffeine, may also contribute to higher levels of anxiety the next day.

Tips for coping with hangxiety

There’s no treatment that’s completely effective for symptoms of a hangover, including anxiety. However, if you regularly experience symptoms of anxiety after drinking, there are a couple of basic strategies you can try to mitigate the effects. First, you may want to consider whether your levels of drinking qualify as excessive as defined by health authorities like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Excessive drinking can be related to distressing hangover symptoms like anxiety as well as to serious potential health problems, from high blood pressure and stroke to cancer and liver disease. If you’re experiencing difficulties with substance use, you can contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357, available 24/7. You may also consider meeting with a mental health professional who specializes in substance use. 

Next, you can try various strategies for managing anxiety in general next time you experience these feelings in conjunction with a hangover. For example:

  • Do a deep breathing exercise. The box breathing technique is one that’s commonly used for relaxation, and you can practice it any time, anywhere you may be experiencing anxiety.
  • Get some physical exercise. If you can, engaging in some form of physical exercise may help you mitigate feelings of anxiety both in the moment and over the long term because it can release anti-anxiety neurochemicals.
  • Rest. Getting enough sleep can help ease the physical symptoms of a hangover—and since research indicates a connection between adequate sleep and decreased symptoms of anxiety, resting when you feel hangxiety may help ease those symptoms as well.
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Is alcohol worsening your anxiety symptoms?

Getting support for hangxiety

If you’re experiencing symptoms of anxiety that are interfering with your daily functioning—whether they’re related to alcohol consumption or not—you may benefit from meeting with a mental healthcare provider. They may be able to help you address your symptoms and develop healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with them, such as recognizing and replacing distorted thoughts, managing stress, and implementing relaxation techniques. If you’re interested in getting support in decreasing your drinking, a mental healthcare professional may be able to help with this as well. 

In many cases, you have the option to meet with a therapist online or in person, depending on your preference. Some people find that attending therapy virtually is more convenient for their schedule since appointment scheduling is flexible and there’s no travel time required. With a virtual therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed therapist who you can speak with via phone, video call, and/or online chat to address the challenges you may be facing. Research indicates that online interventions may be effective in supporting clients who want to develop a healthier relationship with alcohol. One paper on the topic indicates that there’s evidence that digital interventions for excessive drinking may be “effective in reducing mean weekly alcohol consumption and in achieving adherence to low-risk drinking limits”. 

Takeaway

Some people experience a spike in anxiety symptoms after a period of heavy drinking, commonly referred to as “hangxiety”. While there’s no way to completely avoid or cure hangxiety, some anxiety-management techniques like deep breathing may help. If you’re looking to develop a healthier relationship with alcohol, a therapist may be able to assist you.

Regulate anxiety in a compassionate environment

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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