Many individuals wake up after a long night of drinking feeling anxiety. For some, maybe they did or said something foolish or blacked out. But for others, that feeling of anxiety isn’t due to fuzzy recollections of inappropriate behavior. They may feel terror in the pit of their stomach, have clear memories and no reason to feel anxious. But if they do, there is a chemical reason behind it. This is known as Hangover Anxiety or Hangxiety.
‘Hangxiety’ is defined by the Urban Dictionary as follows:
“The feeling of overwhelming guilt, stress, and worry you experience the day after a drinking binge.”
While this term is not found in a medical dictionary, it is a very real phenomenon, experienced by many drinkers, who wake up with a hangover, feeling physical distress and high anxiety.
Hangxiety is caused at a chemical level. It is quite ironic that alcohol is able to alleviate anxiety in the short term. It does so by suppressing cortisol. But as the individual continues to drink, and the body works to rid itself of alcohol, large doses of cortisol and adrenaline are released. Cortisol and Adrenaline are ‘stress hormones’, and they are what cause the main symptoms of a panic attack, such as a racing heart, stomach cramps, cold skin and the feeling that clear thought is not possible. Once the adrenaline levels have lowered, there are other after effects like nausea, vomiting, loss of vision, loss of memory, loss of hearing and diarrhoea.
There have been two studies conducted which confirm the existence of Hangxiety. The first is a study of 1,400 Dutch students, which found that nearly half of them reported feeling agitation the day after drinking. More than half reported feeling confusion and regret as well. The study found that when participants experienced a hangover, the most common symptoms, experienced by more than 85%, were fatigue, thirst, drowsiness, sleepiness, and headache. This is not surprising, because alcohol is directly responsible for disrupted sleep and dehydration.
However, many people who experience anxiety during a hangover also tend to experience higher levels of anxiety when not drinking and report higher life stress, so there is the possibility hangover anxiety could be more prevalent in people who are already having problems.
The second study was conducted at the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland and it reported finding high levels of anxiety in 48 students, who were hungover but otherwise healthy. However, it was only found in those participants who had poor sleep patterns when they were not hungover. Again, these might be people who were already experiencing problems which were not directly related to alcohol at all.
It is also important to note here, that those individuals who suffer from high anxiety and mood disorders, are more likely to consume larger amounts of alcohol. Thus suffering from Hangxiety the next day could simply be them feeling the anxiety they normally feel.
The reality is that the only way to prevent Hangxiety is to simply drink less. However, if the individual wants to have a few drinks, then it is important to remain hydrated and prevent a hangover in the first place. The easy way is to drink a glass of water after each alcoholic drink. This will keep the individual hydrated and will also lessen the amount of alcoholic drinks they consume overall. If the individual still wakes up feeling hangxious, then it might help for them to remember that these feelings are caused by chemicals and that could calm them somewhat.
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