By: Nimisha Jain 

Have you ever woken up after a (great) night of hard partying? And then realized you’re the main character of Katy Perry’s T.G.I.F with that pounding in your head? Or just obsessively scrolled through your phone to make sure you haven’t posted any stories on Instagram or Snapchat you might regret and haven’t sent a text that you might really, really regret? Yeah, there’s a word for that – hangover anxiety or hangxiety.  

If you’re one amongst the lucky bunch that don’t experience this, congratulations! However, if you do feel the shivers of anxiety (and the shivers of a hangover) go through your body when you regain consciousness, this article can help you understand why. 

Why Do I Feel Anxious After Drinking? 

There are a few reasons why a person may feel anxious after a night out: 

  • Being worried about your conduct while inebriated

One of the great motivations behind drinking at parties or social gatherings is the lowering of inhibitions it promises. The first few drinks at a party act as a social kickstarter for most people. Due to the impact alcohol has on the nervous system, it increases feelings of relaxation and reduces apprehension. After a certain point, a person may not behave in the way they normally would (e.g., being raucous, messaging others, or making jokes at someone else’s expense, etc.). Once sobriety returns, you may feel excess guilt or remorse over your actions and feel the need to apologize to everyone you interacted with. 

  • Not remembering details of the drinking event

Taking the point above a step further, sometimes drinking too much or too fast can lead to a partial or complete blackout of the night before. Essentially, a blackout means that after a certain amount of alcohol in your system, your brain is unable to retain new memories. You may be conscious, talking, and walking around, but you just don’t remember some or all of it the next day. 

Of course, this is a cause of worry, not just because you could have been hurt or lost, but also because you don’t know what you may have done or what you may have said. Trying to put together parts of a hazy evening can also be the cause of anxiety the morning after. 

  • A hangover presents with withdrawal-like symptoms

Experts at the National Institute of Alcohol Addiction liken the symptoms of a hangover to those of withdrawal from alcohol. Withdrawal from alcohol after a long period of drinking or heavy drinking (or alcohol use disorders) can include symptoms like:

  • Shaky hands
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Anxiety or panic attacks 

After a night of heavy drinking, some or all of these symptoms may present in a milder form. 

  • Alcohol’s effects on the nervous system

Alcohol triggers dopamine neurons in the brain’s reward centres; these dopamine rushes are implicated in developing an addiction to alcohol. Alcohol also disrupts other neurotransmitters like endorphins and serotonin. These disruptions contribute to irritable, moody, and anxious moods we tend to experience during a hangover. 

The effects of the neurotransmitters glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) are the most well-known. Glutamate is one of the most abundant excitatory neurotransmitters in the body while GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that plays a role in motor control, memory, and anxiety (Cleveland Clinic). As a result, consuming alcohol slows down the excitatory system (glutamate) and simultaneously increases the action of the inhibitory system, kicking off that delicious, relaxed feeling we enjoy a few drinks in. 

However, the human body is adaptive and tries to return neurotransmitter levels to normal by upping the excitatory system and downregulating the inhibitory neurotransmitters. So, as the alcohol is leaving your body, you’re left with a brain that’s trying to compensate for the sedative effects of alcohol by increasing the excitatory glutamate production and reducing GABA’s relaxing effects. These changes contribute in the jittery and anxious feelings you experience the morning after. 

What to do About Your Hangxiety? 

Prevention is better than cure—to avoid hangovers, drink less alcohol than you normally would and drink it slowly. You should also take care to drink water and hydrate yourself in between drinks. Drinking on an empty stomach is not advisable as it leads to alcohol being absorbed that much faster. Therefore, eat a proper meal at least 30-45 minutes before drinking. 

As there is no single clear explanation for why a person feels hungover, it’s difficult to find an agreed-upon cure to a hangover or hangover anxiety. Still, here are some tips that can help: 

  •  Dehydration is implicated as a cause of hangovers, so it would be beneficial to drink lots of fluids or electrolytes (e.g. Gatorade). 
  • Avoid salty foods like fast food or sushi as it dehydrates you further.
  • Painkillers like Tylenol should take care of any body pain or headaches you may be experiencing while an anti-inflammatory would address any stomach issues.
  • Eating a meal with complex carbohydrates (doesn’t a pizza sound great?) will also help settle your stomach. 
  • Alcohol also impairs the quality of your sleep, so a little more rest will go a long way in your recuperation. 
  • Deep breathing or meditation techniques may be useful to quell anxiety. 

If you already are prone to anxiety, please keep in mind that alcohol can temporarily abate your social anxiety; however, once the alcohol wears off, the anxiety can return in full force or even worse than before. 

The Bottom Line

While night-outs are great and help blow off a little steam, it is important to take it easy to avoid a painful morning the next day. Nevertheless, if you have these bouts of hangxiety, you’re not alone. 

If the anxiety persists and you’re concerned, contact a mental health professional (there are a number of resources online). If you’re worried about yourself or a friend, a sign of alcohol use disorder is self-medicating with alcohol to treat anxiety (which was already caused by a hangover). This is a slippery slope to maladaptive coping behaviours. 

Hangover anxiety is caused by a number of factors (behaviour at social events, not remembering the night before, or simply the effects of alcohol on the body and mind). Being mindful of alcohol intake is the best way to prevent hangxiety, and if it ever does strike, hydrating; good food; and some rest work wonders to get you up and running again!  

Works Cited

“Glutamate: What It Is & Function.” Cleveland Clinic, https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/22839-glutamate. Accessed 4 Aug. 2022.