Drinking too much can lead to ‘hangxiety’ the next day. It’s a real problem, experts say
The News & Observer
By Vandana Ravikumar
December 22, 2021
It’s normal to feel a bit rough after a night out, especially if you had a few too many drinks on the dance floor. But for some people, that night of fun is followed by a day of feeling intense anxiety and restlessness.
Hangover-related anxiety, or “hangxiety,” is an unfortunate condition that brews as alcohol leaves the body, according to Dr. Jiseung Yoon, an addiction-medicine specialist who works with the alcohol treatment program Monument, Yahoo Life reported.
Yoon told Yahoo Life that the feeling is basically a symptom of alcohol withdrawal. When someone drinks alcohol, they feel good and their brain feels excited, but as the alcohol wears off, the brain seeks more of the substance.
“For many people it lasts until they start drinking again, and it’s a negative cycle,” Yoon told the outlet.
Anxiety after drinking can also be influenced by a host of other factors, including hangover symptoms like dehydration or sleep deprivation, or disorders like social anxiety and depression, according to Dr. Timothy Fong, a clinical professor of psychiatry and the director of the UCLA Addiction Psychiatry Fellowship, Today reported.
“There’s literally 10, 15 or 20 different theories about how drinking and anxiety are linked. People oftentimes forget that alcohol is a really powerful substance,” Fong told Today.
VULNERABLE TO DRINKING ALCOHOL
People who already have anxiety disorders may feel more anxious when sober and might turn to alcohol to curb their symptoms. Once the effects of the alcohol wane, they go back to feeling anxious, Medical News Today reported in 2020.
In particular, people who struggle with shyness or experience social anxiety disorder might be especially vulnerable to alcohol use disorders, according to a 2019 study by researchers at the University of Exeter and University College London in the UK.
The study found that people might experience a marginal decrease in their anxiety or shyness when they drink alcohol, but that they often experience a significant increase in anxiety the following day.
This might happen because alcohol ultimately doesn’t erase the underlying triggers of anxiety, including trauma, stress, or untreated mood disorders like depression, according to the American Addiction Centers.
Alcohol use can also impact the brain’s ability to respond to stress in healthy or effective ways, the American Addiction Centers said.
“This may be due to alcohol’s effect on the amygdala, the area of your brain that regulates negative emotions,” the organization said. “Brain imaging studies have found abnormalities in amygdala functioning in individuals with alcohol use disorder.”
“Hangxiety” can also be made worse by factors that typically contribute to hangovers, including dehydration and poor sleep. Lack of sleep in particular often makes anxiety symptoms worse, with or without alcohol, Healthline reported.
The anxiety could also be the consequence of the decreased cognitive function that comes with drinking alcohol or experiencing a hangover. People, especially those with anxiety or other mood disorders, might feel on edge the day after drinking because they did things while inebriated that embarrass them or that they regret. They might feel even worse if they can’t remember what they did, according to Healthline.
AVOIDING AND TREATING HANGXIETY
There’s no magic way to prevent hangxiety, and the best way to avoid it is to simply drink less or forego alcohol altogether, The Guardian reported in 2019. Celia Morgan, professor of psychopharmacology at the University of Exeter and one of the authors of the 2019 study, told The Guardian that people who experience hangxiety should try to break the cycle.
“Before drinking in a social situation you feel anxious in, try fast-forwarding to the next day when you’ll have much higher anxiety levels,” Morgan said, The Guardian reported. “If you can’t ride that out without drinking, the worry is that you will get stuck in this cycle of problematic drinking where your hangxiety is building and building over time.”
In other words, drinking to deal with hangxiety only creates a cycle of dependence on alcohol, The Guardian reported.
If you’re already experiencing hangxiety, you can address it by treating your hangover overall. Drink plenty of water, make sure to eat something, and take a shower to get your blood flowing, Dr. Fong told Today.
Dr. Nasir H. Naqvi, program director of Fellowship in Addiction Psychiatry and an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center, told Today that people who experience hangxiety should also take a moment to evaluate their drinking habits.
“Regularly treating one’s hangovers is a sign of a drinking problem, not a solution,” he told Today. “It is better for your health to fully experience hangxiety so that it’s more likely to deter you from future heavy drinking.”