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Hangxiety 101: Why Drinking Causes Hangover Anxiety

Hangxiety“, or hangover anxiety, is a buzzword to describe the debilitating anxiety that comes after a night of heavy drinking. Maybe you’re familiar with it.

You wake up and feel gripped with panic. You become inundated with overwhelming thoughts and regrets.

Your heart races, and you wonder if you’re about to have a heart attack. It’s anxiety on ten and can take you out for the entire day, maybe even longer.

man suffering from hangxiety in bed
What is hangxiety?

Why does alcohol cause hangxiety?

Hangxiety is your brain’s way of trying to restore equilibrium. When you drink, alcohol floods your brain with a surge of dopamine. It’s why getting buzzed feels good at first.

But here’s the thing about our brains: it likes balance. Alcohol disrupts the delicate balance between inhibitory and excitatory neurotransmitters in the brain.

Alcohol acts as a depressant by increasing inhibitory neurotransmission and decreasing excitatory neurotransmission. It’s why, initially, alcohol makes you feel relaxed and carefree. Alcohol increases GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid) activity, slowing everything down and calming the brain.

Alcohol also blocks glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter linked to anxiety. This feels especially wonderful if you are someone who struggles with an anxiety disorder. For a time, it shuts all the brain chatter down.

The problem occurs when the brain tries to balance the effects of alcohol.

When alcohol artificially boosts the levels of inhibitory neurotransmission, the brain says, “Welp! Time to ramp up the excitatory neurotransmitters and get things back to normal.”

Eventually, that blissful GABA bath must come to an end.

The brain responds to an influx of alcohol by blocking GABA and increasing glutamate. When this process happens, you go from a happy-go-lucky drunk person to an anxiety-stricken, rage maniac (or something related).

We’ve all seen or experienced the mood swing that comes out of nowhere during a heavy drinking session. The guy or gal telling everyone, “I love you,” an hour ago is now picking fights at the bar with strangers. (Or some version of that.)

This overcorrection by the brain also fuels the hangxiety the following day.

yarn heart and brain
the impact of alcohol on the brain -hangxiety

Hangxiety vs Hangover – What’s the difference?

Not everyone who drinks will experience hangxiety the next day, and neither will everyone who gets a hangover.

The word ‘hangover’ encompasses a wide range of physical and emotional symptoms resulting from moderate to heavy drinking. They include:

  • fatigue
  • weakness
  • thirst
  • headache
  • muscle ache
  • nausea
  • stomach pain
  • vertigo
  • light and sound sensitivity
  • irritability
  • anxiety
  • sweating
  • increased blood pressure

Woe to the person with the unfortunate fate of experiencing all these at once (been there).

woman with glass of water suffering from anxiety hangover
hangover vs hangxiety

Hangxiety is the collision of a hangover and severe anxiety. It’s awful.

Hangxiety goes beyond the common dread that comes with the morning after a night of heavy drinking and debauchery.

It is not simply feeling embarrassed by the previous night’s decisions or behaviors.

It is a debilitating level of anxiety brought on by alcohol that prevents you from functioning normally.

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, people who already struggle with anxiety and anxiety disorders are more susceptible to experiencing hangxiety after drinking.

Why you should take hangover anxiety seriously.

Aside from being horrible to experience, hangover anxiety should be taken as a warning sign of a deeper problem with drinking.

Alcohol affects our brain chemistry in profound ways.

It disrupts important nerve-chemical systems in our brain responsible for regulating mood. Introducing alcohol into a brain struggling to regulate mood is a recipe for disaster.

If you have a history of depression and anxiety, alcohol will worsen it.

Chronic, heavy drinking is also associated with an increased risk of suicidal thoughts, attempts, and death by suicide. Extreme binge drinking can also lead to psychosis and hallucination.

Bottom line: it’s serious.

How to Calm Down from Hangxiety

The best way to stop hangxiety is to not drink heavily or at all. One of the great benefits of getting sober is that you no longer have to play Russian roulette with your mood.

You may also want to make an appointment with a mental health specialist to discuss a treatment plan for your anxiety.

This won’t do anything to alleviate hangxiety symptoms at the moment. However, being proactive about treating mental health problems is the first step in breaking free from the vicious cycle of self-medicating with alcohol.

If you wake up hungover with bad hangover anxiety, there are a few things you can do to try to feel better. Be advised. I said ‘try’ because you have to ride it out in most cases.

woman with head between knees suffering from anxiety after heavy drinking
how to treat anxiety after drinking

1. Take care of your physical needs.

Hydrate, hydrate, and hydrate. You may need to add a hydration boost like Liquid IV or other electrolyte drink in many cases.

Take a Tylenol, a hot shower to get the blood flowing, and eat something. Basically, do the opposite of laying in bed dying a slow death.

This won’t likely eliminate your hangxiety, but it certainly lays the groundwork for getting past it more quickly.

2. Try some relaxation techniques and breathing work.

When your heart feels like it is racing a mile a minute, one of the best things you can do is breathe. Slow, controlled breaths.

You’re trying to activate your body’s parasympathetic nervous system so you can physically calm down.

Meditation is a great way to slow things down. You might also consider doing gentle yoga, light stretching, or taking a leisurely stroll.

The idea is to slow everything down, so avoid doing rigorous physical activity.

3. Try to naturally boost serotonin levels.

In addition to breath work and taking care of your physical needs, you can try boosting serotonin levels naturally to offset the dopamine deficit fueling your anxiety.

Ways to Raise Serotonin Naturally:

  • Go for a walk outdoors and spend time in nature
  • Eat healthy food, especially tryptophan-rich foods like oats, cheese, nuts, seeds, tuna, turkey, and chicken.
  • Get a massage.
  • Try meditation.
  • Spend time in bright, natural light. (Maybe not your first thought after a night of drinking, but it does help.)

4. Take it easy.

After you’ve done steps 1 through 3, the best thing you can do is take it easy. If you can, stay home and watch TV or do another activity to help you pass the time without getting worked up.

You need to give your brain time to readjust.

If you find your hangxiety is lasting longer than a day, you definitely need to make an appointment with your doctor. Chronic stress and anxiety can significantly damage your health and quality of life.

Once you get stuck in a cycle of self-medicating your anxiety with alcohol, it becomes much harder to quit drinking.

You begin to drink to get relief from anxiety, which causes you to become more anxious. Inevitably, you increase your consumption to achieve the same numbing effects.

The longer you do this, the harder it is to get sober or find peace in your life.

The Bottom Line on Hangxiety:

Hangxiety is not just a terrible side effect of too much drinking; it is a warning sign of deeper mental health issues and potential alcohol use disorder.

The only way to avoid hangxiety is to radically change your drinking habits or get sober. If you experience recurring episodes of hangover anxiety, reach out to your doctor, and don’t be afraid to connect with a sobriety support group.

You can get past this; the best time to start is now.

close up of a man holding a glass of alcohol looking stressed with his head in his hand behind the title why drinking alcohol causes hangxiety
Why alcohol gives you terrible hangxiety


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