Hangxiety: can alcohol cause anxiety?

Excessive drinking can cause anxiety, both in the short and long-term.

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Drinking alcohol may temporarily reduce your worries, lower your stress levels and take your mind off any troubles. However, excessive drinking can lead to increased anxiety the next day: a phenomenon that's become known as ‘hangxiety’. It can also make any existing anxiety worse in the long run.

Here, we will explore what hangxiety is, as well as the link between alcohol and anxiety.

What is hangxiety?

Following a drinking session, you may experience a hangover. This usually involves a number of physical symptoms, including a headache, dizziness, fatigue and feeling sick. It can also result in a range of psychological symptoms, such as feeling depressed, anxious or panicky. The anxiety you feel during a hangover has become known as ‘hangxiety’. It’s also sometimes referred to as ‘hangover anxiety’, ‘post beer fear’ or ‘post alcohol anxiety.’

What does hangxiety feel like?

Hangxiety can make you feel nervous, on-edge and unable to relax. As well as the common symptoms of anxiety, the signs of hangxiety may also include:

  • Feeling anxious and depressed
  • Feelings of regret and embarrassment about your behaviour the previous night
  • Over-analysing everything you did or said while you were drinking
  • Worrying that you can’t remember everything about the night before
  • Feelings of existential dread
  • Paranoia and fear
  • Panic attacks
  • Restlessness
  • Racing heart
  • Being unable to focus or concentrate
  • Seeking reassurance from other people about your behaviour the night before

For some people, the hangxiety they experience following a night of drinking can be so debilitating that it can make them want to stop drinking completely. The experience can also be particularly unpleasant if your hangxiety occurs alongside the physical symptoms of a hangover. Things like tiredness, poor nutrition and dehydration (all common following a night of drinking) can also have a negative impact on your mood, making you more emotional and therefore even more prone to hangxiety.

Can alcohol cause anxiety?

Drinking alcohol increases the levels of ‘feel good’ chemicals in your brain, such as serotonin and other neurotransmitters, which can initially lead to feelings of relaxation, sociability and confidence. Ironically, the effects of drinking can be similar to the effects of anti-anxiety medication. However, when the effects of alcohol wear off and your brain is trying to reduce these chemicals back to their normal levels, this can cause withdrawal symptoms, including hangxiety. This is how alcohol causes anxiety in the short-term.

However, alcohol abuse can also make any existing anxiety worse in the long-term. In addition, long-term alcohol abuse can lead to other mental health problems and can result in a number of chronic physical health problems, such as liver disease, which may cause even more anxiety.

It’s very common for alcohol addiction and anxiety to co-occur alongside one another. Alcohol can lead to new anxiety symptoms (for example, in the form of hangxiety) or exacerbate an existing anxiety disorder. Conversely, existing anxiety can lead to someone developing an alcohol addiction, especially if the person uses alcohol to cope with their feelings of anxiety.

The cycle of alcohol use and anxiety

Ultimately, alcohol and anxiety can become connected in a vicious circle. You may:

  • Drink alcohol
  • Feel calm, confident and sociable
  • Withdraw and feel anxious the next day
  • Start drinking again to relieve your anxiety

Over time, this cycle can lead to alcohol dependence and worsening mental health.

In addition, it’s important to note that some people may be more susceptible to becoming embroiled in this vicious circle. For example, people who struggle with social anxiety may drink solely for the purpose of relieving anxiety in social situations.

Dealing with hangxiety

There are a number of things you can do to help you deal with hangxiety, or reduce its impact. When you’re hungover and experiencing hangxiety, try to:

  • Look after yourself physically – drink plenty of water, get some rest and try to eat something that’s easy on your stomach
  • Do something relaxing – take a bath, listen to calming music or go for a leisurely walk in the fresh air
  • Talk to your friends and family about your worries – they may be able to help you calm down and reassure you that there’s nothing to be anxious about
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself – try to avoid overthinking your actions and don’t beat yourself up about things
  • Try some anxiety relaxation techniques – things like breathing exercises and muscle relaxation can help you to cope with your anxiety and manage it a bit better

Treatment for alcohol abuse and anxiety

Ultimately, the only way you can completely eradicate hangxiety is to reduce your drinking or stop drinking entirely. However, if you're showing the symptoms of alcohol addiction, it’s likely that you’ll need professional support to help you safely withdraw from alcohol and remain sober.

At Priory, our alcohol addiction treatment programmes can help you to tackle your addiction, explore the underlying reasons for your drinking and help you get back on track. If your drinking stems from pre-existing anxiety, we can also help you to get this under control. Anxiety treatment at Priory will equip you with the skills to manage your negative feelings more effectively in the future, instead of reaching for a drink.

To find out how we can help you to overcome your anxiety and alcohol misuse, get in touch today. You don’t have to suffer in silence; expert help is available.

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