Authored by Pin Ng

Edited by Hugh Soames

Reviewed by Dr Ruth Arenas Matta

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Understanding Hangxiety


A night of heavy drinking brings some unpleasant feelings the next day. You may feel mentally and physically exhausted, and possibly ill as your body starts to detox. You may experience headaches, nausea, and a bit of confusion in the morning. Some people are dehydrated when they wake up and others may have diarrhea. Along with these feelings, you may also feel anxious.


Heavy alcohol consumption affects everyone differently. Yet, it seems most people – if not all – who wake up with a hangover have some form of worry that sets in. Waking up with a hangover can leave you with a racing mind and worry over what happened the previous night. You may wonder if you embarrassed yourself or something else occurred you do not remember. This is known as hangover anxiety, or hangxiety.


What is it Hangover Anxiety?


Let’s start out by clearing something up. Hangxiety is not a medical term and if you speak to a mental health professional or medical practitioner about it, they may initially look at you with a puzzled expression11.B. Marsh, M. Carlyle, E. E. Carter, P. Hughes, S. McGahey, W. Lawn, T. Stevens, A. McAndrew and C. Morgan, [PDF] Shyness, alcohol use disorders and ‘hangxiety’: A naturalistic study of social drinkers | Semantic Scholar, [PDF] Shyness, alcohol use disorders and ‘hangxiety’: A naturalistic study of social drinkers | Semantic Scholar.; Retrieved September 29, 2022, from https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Shyness%2C-alcohol-use-disorders-and-%E2%80%98hangxiety%E2%80%99%3A-A-Marsh-Carlyle/2bb7fe6671a6504c1dee4b29647526179308c1ba. Despite hangxiety being a non-medical term, it is very real, some people call it “the fear”.


Dr Desreen N. Dudley claims hangxiety is a symptom of withdrawal from alcohol. Hangover anxiety is a milder symptom to alcohol withdrawal. Alcohol withdrawal typically occurs to individuals who heavily consume alcohol, but the anxious feeling following a night of hard drinking can affect everyone. Hangxiety exists due to alcohol’s impact on the brain.


Consuming alcohol alters the levels of chemicals in the brain. Serotonin, which regulates a person’s mood and anxiety levels, is one of the chemicals that is affected by alcohol use. Alcohol can have a calming effect on people thanks to its ability to depress the central nervous system. When alcohol’s feel-good effect wears off, your anxiety levels can increase suddenly and dramatically.


You may have a few strong drinks at night to relax. Yet, the following morning the dread you tried to drink away returns due to the feel-good effect evaporating and your anxiety levels spiking.


Hangxiety Vs GABA


Hangxiety may also be attributed to alcohol’s impact on neurotransmitters known as GABA and glutamate. These neurotransmitters have opposing inhibitory and stimulatory effects on your brain. GABA lowers the activity in the nervous system and produces a calming effect.


Glutamate triggers the nervous system and works with brain functions like cognition, memory, and learning. Research has found that alcohol may mimic GABA’s impact on the brain and at the same time, inhibits glutamate.


Causes of Hangxiety


A night of heavy alcohol consumption creates physiological changes in your brain. When you’re drinking alcohol, there’s an increase of GABA. It causes you to feel calm and relaxed. Once you stop consuming alcohol, you experience withdrawal symptoms.


Your body gets accustomed to having alcohol in its system. It uses alcohol as a crutch to feel calm and relaxed. Once you take alcohol away from the body, anxiety often follows and increases accordingly.


A night out drinking can cause an interruption to your sleep schedule. In addition, fighting a hangover can cause bodily disruptions as your body fights to recover or continue without alcohol. You may feel anxiety and depression from these factors combining.


If you use alcohol to lower your anxiety, it can be a major problem. Drinking to reduce anxiety is a vicious cycle because the more you drink, the you more anxious you become. You increase your alcohol consumption to relieve anxiety. This is one way in which trouble with alcohol and anxiety begins and continues over time.


You then become dependent on drinking alcohol to make it through your daily life. When alcohol becomes a coping mechanism for anxiety, it can work in the short-term. However, using alcohol to continually lower anxiety can have a reverse effect. This will only make your hangxiety worse.


Hangxiety Symptoms


You may find it difficult to narrow down the symptoms of hangxiety. Even if you drink a small amount of alcohol, you can still experience hangover anxiety.


Symptoms of hangxiety include:


  • Nervousness
  • Regret and/or fear about real or perceived actions during the previous day or night when drinking
  • Lethargy, fatigue, and tiredness
  • Difficulty concentrating or completing day-to-day tasks at work or school
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Mood swings, frustration, and/or anger
  • Sadness and depression created by anxiety
  • Alcohol-related memory loss leading to worrisome thought patterns about unknown actions or behaviors


Feelings of anxiety and regret often lead to troublesome thoughts that constantly replay in your mind. These thoughts are of the previous evening and may cause you to cringe about them due to being uncomfortable memories. If you experienced a blackout due to drinking, your hangxiety can be even higher.


It is believed that individuals suffering from social anxiety or stress-induced anxiety on a daily basis are more likely to experience hang over anxiety. You may be able to calm down and relax after a few drinks to reduce anxiety. However, once the anxiety wears off, the symptoms occur.


Get Rid of Hangxiety


Regardless of your food or water in-take, you may still experience a hangover despite drinking two or three alcoholic drinks. If you wake up and experience a hangover with anxiety as one of the symptoms, you should begin by treating the hangover as one complete issue.


You should drink plenty of water, rest, and try relaxing as best you can. Many people drink electrolyte-packed drinks such as Gatorade. However, these drinks may not eliminate your anxiety due to the sugars they contain. Hydrating your body and making it feel better can make it possible to soothe your mind and lower your hangover anxiety.


When treating anxiety, there is no one-size fits all treatment. You should find a method that works best for you to treat anxiety.


Popular ways to treat hangxiety:


  • Meditation
  • Hypnosis
  • Breathwork
  • Creating a feel-good list of things, you enjoy doing


You may consider speaking with a mental health care provider to discover anxiety treatments. You may learn about treatments that work well for you.


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    1.B. Marsh, M. Carlyle, E. E. Carter, P. Hughes, S. McGahey, W. Lawn, T. Stevens, A. McAndrew and C. Morgan, [PDF] Shyness, alcohol use disorders and ‘hangxiety’: A naturalistic study of social drinkers | Semantic Scholar, [PDF] Shyness, alcohol use disorders and ‘hangxiety’: A naturalistic study of social drinkers | Semantic Scholar.; Retrieved September 29, 2022, from https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Shyness%2C-alcohol-use-disorders-and-%E2%80%98hangxiety%E2%80%99%3A-A-Marsh-Carlyle/2bb7fe6671a6504c1dee4b29647526179308c1ba
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