Understanding “Hangxiety” And How It Can Impact Mental Health
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.
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
- 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.
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.
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”.
How can I calm my anxiety after drinking?
There are a number of things you can do to help calm anxiety after a night of drinking. First, take care of your body. Hydrate with water throughout the day, eat small simple meals, and try to get as much rest as possible. An over-the-counter pain reliever can take care of any aches and pains (which may exacerbate anxiety in some people).
To address the anxiety, try to do some mindfulness practices such as meditation, stretching, or intentionally slow your breathing. If you are worried about things you may have said or done the night before, remember that your friends are likely in the same boat. Talk to a trusted friend about it, and try to put it in perspective.
Why do I get anxious after I drink?
Experts haven’t yet identified a cause for anxiety related to hangovers, but they have identified a number of potential factors. Some of these include:
- A tendency toward social anxiety or other anxiety disorders. Drinking can help alleviate anxiety, but it will come back full force when the effect of alcohol wears off, with the added factor of physical symptoms (another common cause of anxiety)
- Alcohol withdrawal. The body processing the alcohol out of the body can cause you to feel anxious
- Folic acid deficiency. Research has found a link between low folic acid and mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. When you drink alcohol it can cause a decrease in folic acid levels
- Interactions with prescription medications may play a role
- Endorphin levels rise with alcohol use, and can lead to a comedown period as effects wear off
- Regret or embarrassment regarding actions while drinking
How long does anxiety last after drinking?
This can depend on the person and the circumstances, including how much alcohol was consumed. For some the anxiety alcohol causes lasts only a few hours, while others may feel the effects for a couple of days.
Why do I feel weird 2 days after drinking?
There can be a number of reasons that you’re feeling “off” after drinking. One of alcohol’s effects can be dehydration, which can throw you off for a day or two (especially if you don’t hydrate properly afterwards). Neurotransmitters may also play a role: dopamine, glutamate, and gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) production in the body are affected by drinking, so you may not feel as cheery as usual for a day or two after a period of heavy drinking.
Why is hangxiety so bad?
Feeling anxious while also dealing with alcohol wear and tear on the body can lead to more intense anxiety. Physical processes that are disrupted by drinking more alcohol than is healthy can drive up an individual’s typical anxiety, as well as create physical symptoms that can make them feel worse.
Alcohol use disorder can create a cycle of anxiety, with the individual drinking to escape anxiety temporarily, feeling more anxious when hungover, and then using more alcohol to address that anxiety.
What supplements are good for hangover anxiety?
The most effective way to deal with the symptoms of hangover anxiety is to address physical symptoms by flushing the system out with water, and replacing essential electrolytes. Pedialyte or Gatorade can be helpful for this purpose. You may also want to eat mild foods for a day or so, and to take an over-the-counter pain medication to alleviate body aches.
Which alcohol causes less anxiety?
Alcohol abuse in any form can lead to anxiety. That being said, there are individual tolerances that differ. Some people may feel worse after drinking red wine, while others can’t tolerate grain liquor. There is no one type of alcohol that is known to be “better” for anxiety, anxiety drinking alcohol is caused by disruption to neurochemicals and other factors.
Can alcohol cause panic attacks?
Alcohol use can cause panic attacks, especially in those who are prone to them to begin with. Anxiety levels are often elevated after drinking, and physical symptoms may trigger a panic reaction.
Why do I feel weird after drinking alcohol?
There are a number of reasons you may feel weird after drinking. Dehydration can cause physical discomfort, including headache, body aches, and nausea. Neurotransmitters in the brain can become disrupted with alcohol use, causing anxiety and depression symptoms for a day or two. You may also experience anxiety caused by worry over what you may have said or done when under the influence of alcohol.
Does CBD help with hangover anxiety?
Probably not. Much of the research on effects of CBD on hangover symptoms is anecdotal. The most effective way to treat hangover anxiety is with hydration, electrolytes, and rest.
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