Have you ever felt super anxious after a long night of drinking? Say hello to “hangxiety” -- this modern term for anxiety helps describe the uneasy feeling that accompanies a hangover after binge drinking.
Remember when you said “I’m never drinking again” yet somehow ended up mixing your drinks, maybe taking a few shots and stumbling home in the early hours of the morning filled with regret.
So why do we continue to do it time and time again? Is it possible to reduce or prevent feeling anxious after heavy drinking? Let's find out..
What causes hangxiety?
Alcohol is considered a sedative, consumption has psychological effects that lower our inhibitions, triggering feelings of calmness and relaxation. You can thank the temporary increase of dopamine in our brain, a feel-good chemical associated with reward for that, but once these short lived dopamine levels subside (after a night of binge drinking), feelings of anxiety, low mood and even depression start to kick in due to the significant reduction of dopamine and other off balance chemicals. Upon waking up, the brain is hard at work trying to rebalance the impacted brain chemicals. During this process the brain becomes sensitive to glutamate, a vital neurotransmitter that becomes hyperactive causing you to be anxious. You can think of the morning after drinking as the reverse of what was happening while you were consuming alcohol. In addition to these brain chemicals, there is also a social aspect that comes into play -- you know, the I hope I didn't embarrass myself last night thoughts that you play over again in your head all day. Those thoughts add to our already uneasy feelings, pushing us into a spiral of worry and self-doubt.
Binge drinking produces chemical changes in the brain, and once you take away alcohol withdrawal symptoms like anxiety can occur, especially for those who are regular heavy drinkers. People who already suffer from anxiety, or depression are much more likely to experience hangxiety after binging on alcohol, as becoming intoxicated can briefly suppress these feelings. However the rebound effect is likely to heighten these feelings when compared to baseline anxiety and can be a recipe for disaster.
What you can do about it
First you should know -- you’re not alone! It’s totally normal to experience this and somewhat out of your control, unfortunately. Biologically speaking these neurological processes need to happen throughout and after drinking in order to rebalance your body. Don’t worry, there is still a little hope:
The do’s and don'ts of drinking
- Limit your alcohol consumption
- Stay hydrated with electrolytes
- Don’t drink on an empty stomach, hello carbs
- Drink the same type of alcohol, don’t mix
- Don’t take (too many) shots
- Drink water and take an advil before bed
- Eat before you go to bed
- Get plenty of sleep
- Have a greasy breakfast when you wake up
- Don’t drink coffee it can overstimulate your brain worsening anxiety
“This too shall pass”