Most people who drink alcohol socially have had the experience of over indulging and paying the price for it the next day. The physical symptoms of a hangover are well known. However, many are unaware of the psychological effects that alcoholic beverages can have on the brain.
It is easy to lump the depressive and anxious feelings of excessive drinking in with the physical symptoms, but they can be very different. Anxiety or hangxiety and mental health effects of a hangover are very common and treatable.
What is Hangxiety?
The word hangxiety is a mixture of the words “hangover” and “anxiety.” According to Urban Dictionary, hangxiety is “the feeling of overwhelming guilt, stress, and worry you experience the day after a drinking binge.” Most people have done or said something while drinking that they come to regret later when the effects of alcohol have worn off. However, hangxiety is that and can include much more.
Common emotional hangxiety side effects can look like feeling sad or tearful. It can also include mental feelings of anxiety like racing thoughts or excessive worry. Hangxiety can also cause feelings of physical anxiety like tightness in the chest or increased heart rate. When experiencing hangxiety you may feel on edge, experience difficulty concentrating or sleeping, and your appetite may be suppressed or increased.
The experience of hangxiety may be in direct conflict with your rational mind. When experiencing hangxiety, you may say to yourself “I know I have nothing to worry about, but I just feel anxious and sad.” You may find that the feeling is very hard to shake. Hangxiety can affect those who experience anxiety and depression in their daily life and those who do not because alcohol effects that brain at a neurochemical level.
The Potential Causes of Hangxiety
According to the American Addiction Centers, alcohol affects several neurochemicals including GABA, dopamine, and serotonin. GABA or gamma-aminobutyric acid, is a mood boosting neurotransmitter. Research shows that when drinking alcohol in moderation, GABA is initially increased. However, when drinking excessively, GABA is depleted causing low mood or feelings of sadness. It’s important to note that consistently drinking alcohol in excess can cause alcohol use disorder and come with dangers around alcohol withdrawal.
Dopamine plays a part in our experience of pleasure and gratification. Similar to GABA, dopamine is initially stimulated when drinking, but can be depleted with excessive drinking. Serotonin plays a role in mood, sexual behavior, and hunger. Excessive drinking can slow down serotonin signaling and cause altered mood and feelings of anxiety and depression.
The depressive effects of hangxiety can last several days as it may take your brain and body extra time to regenerate the depleted neurochemicals. Using alcohol can be reinforcing initially, but cause serious changes in the brain’s neurochemistry. That is why it is fun to drink, but not as fun to recover. If you are someone who experiences hangxiety, you may consider the following suggestions to decease the severity of hangxiety or avoid hangxiety all together.
How to Cope with Hangxiety
Set a limit
If you are someone who experiences hangxiety, set a limit for your alcohol consumption. Many anxious or shy people find themselves drinking excessively as a form of social lubricant so they can feel relaxed during social situations, especially if they struggle with social anxiety.
Consider the consequences of feeling anxious and depressed for days or longer after one night of drinking. Track your alcohol intake and learn how much is too much for your specific body and mental health. Putting your mental health first is important and it may be advisable to stop drinking entirely, if that’s what you need to feel mentally and physically healthy. Engage with friends to help you monitor your consumption and notify you when it might be time to stop.
Find ways to boost depleted neurochemicals
Anti inflammatory foods such as mushrooms, spinach, broccoli, and sweet potatoes can boost GABA production. You may also consider a GABA supplement. Dopamine can be boosted though healthy sleep, exercise, and sex. You can increase serotonin levels by exposure to bright lights, exercise, and meditation or deep breathing.
Plan for Hangxiety
If you are someone who experiences hangxiety and a reduction in alcohol consumption is not an option or you are attending an event in which you worry your consumption will exceed your level of comfortability, make a plan. Identify supports who you can reach out to in the day(s) after heavy drinking. Before you fall asleep after a night of drinking, make sure you have a full, large glass of water as you likely will wake up dehydrated.
Schedule an extra therapy session for the day after a night of heavy drinking, plan a gym date with a friend or partner to boot serotonin, or all your partner for some fun hangover sex to boost dopamine.
Hangxiety is not a fun experience, but there are ways to combat or completely avoid it.