Hangover anxiety, sometimes referred to as “hangxiety,” is an anxious state one experiences after consuming large amounts of alcohol (relative to one’s tolerance).1 Like normal anxiety, it is a negative emotional state—leading one to worry and experience stomach aches, gastrointestinal irritation and irritability. It adds to physical hangover symptoms by disrupting mental and emotional processes.
What Is Hangxiety?
Hangxiety is defined by experiencing anxiety symptoms during a hangover. It oftentimes presents itself with feelings of anxiety, guilt, and shame after drinking. Hangovers are the unpleasant, unwanted signs and symptoms that occur after consuming too much alcohol or other substances of abuse in accordance with tolerance level.2
Although alcohol use and anxiety are connected, not everyone experiences hangxiety.3 Studies found that 22.6% of people ages 18-30 experienced anxiety after drinking. Given the traditional symptoms of hangovers, it makes sense that some would experience anxiety, especially considering that excessive alcohol consumption speeds up heart rate and inhibits someone’s ability to focus.1
Hangxiety vs. Regular Anxiety
Hangxiety and regular anxiety will overlap greatly in terms of symptoms and experience with the most significant difference being the trigger. With regular anxiety, symptoms may stem from certain situations like seeing a spider and being around new people, or it could be a generalized anxiety that lingers throughout the week.
Even though it will produce many of the same symptoms, hangxiety’s only trigger is alcohol, and some people will have a layer of hangxiety added to their foundation of regular anxiety.
Common symptoms of hangxiety include:1
- Feeling on edge
- Experiencing a sense of impending doom
- Feeling panicky
- Increased heart rate (tachycardia)
- Rapid breathing (hyperventilation)
- Feeling weak
- Difficulty concentrating
- Gastrointestinal problems
Although not all symptoms need to be present for someone to experience the detrimental effects of hangxiety, the more that are present, the more significant the problem.
How Long Does Hangxiety Last?
The duration of hangover symptoms tends to vary depending upon how much alcohol someone has consumed, as well as their level of tolerance. A hangover may last anywhere from a few hours to an entire day.1 In situations where a person has consumed excessive quantities of a substance and/or has lower tolerance, the experience may last longer than 24 hours.
Although any experience with hangovers indicates problematic drinking, those lasting more than 24 hours and occurring more frequently warrant additional attention. The effects of anxiety stemming from this experience may be present long after the hangover has ended.
Why Does Hangxiety Happen?
Research has identified a physiological link between the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and alcohol, which initially serves to lower a person’s inhibitions during active alcohol consumption.4 For some, the connection between GABA and alcohol is what ultimately leads toward excessive anxiety, fear, panic, stress, and other negative emotions.4
Beyond this physical connection, other triggers of hangover anxiety include:
Approximately 15 million US adults, or 6.8% of the population, struggle with diagnosable social anxiety disorder.5 Whether struggling with a diagnosable form of SAD or social anxiety in general, it is a common experience for many to consume alcohol to lower inhibitions and feel more comfortable in the presence of others. Doing this, however, avoids the root cause of the issue and exacerbates problems over time.
Those with social anxiety may find themselves struggling to recall what happened the prior evening—drawing worst case scenarios and doom and gloom conclusions that the worst had happened, which can cause hangxiety.
It is important to note that when consuming any substance, chemical alterations occur in the brain. Once alcohol consumption ceases, the brain works toward resetting itself. During this time, someone may experience emotional instability, including emotional withdrawal.
Emotional withdrawal might include bottling up emotions, disconnection from others, and reaching toward maladaptive coping mechanisms (i.e., continuing to drink more).6 Especially for those who choose to drink as an avoidant coping strategy, emotional withdrawal only serves to further intensify and exacerbate symptoms.
Someone’s experience with alcohol withdrawal will vary depending upon their tolerance and quantity consumed. Common symptoms in more serious cases of withdrawal include abnormal heart rhythm, agitation, anxiety, confusion, hallucinations, high blood pressure, seizures, and tremors. Given the unpleasant experience of any of these, especially in combination, it makes sense that such discomfort will naturally trigger anxiety.
It is important to note, however, that alcohol withdrawal, especially for those who are struggling with a severe alcohol use disorder, may lead to death without appropriate intervention. If it is believed that someone is struggling with alcohol use disorder, it is important to seek professional attention, which will likely include medical detox.
Regret is a common experience by many who experience hangxiety. Worries involving things said and done the night before accumulate while anxiety intensifies. When this becomes a regular occurrence, people may internalize feelings of regret and shame—believing that they are bad to the core.7
Thoughts like “I am a screw up,” or “I cannot do anything right,” become the new internal negative self-talk, and the cycle tends to continue. If you do experience feelings of regret after drinking, it is an indication to take pause and corrective action to ensure that mistakes are not repeated.
Poor sleep is another common side effect of excessive drinking. Although drinking may lead to blackouts or states in which someone quickly “passes out” upon attempting to sleep, chemical processes within the brain compromise its quality of sleep. It is also likely that an evening of heavy drinking was a late one, which minimizes time allotted toward sleep. Staying up until 3:00am drinking and having to wake-up for work at 6:30am becomes increasingly difficult over time (and with age), which can lead to additional anxiety.
Why Doesn’t Anxiety After Drinking Happen to Everyone?
Alcohol creates its effects in the brain by interacting with certain neurotransmitters. What occurs after these interactions is largely a mystery. Some people will become happy and relaxed after drinking, while others will be prone to depression, anger, or anxiety.
People could be more likely to experience hangxiety if they:
- Tend to be anxious
- Have other mental health conditions
- Are related to other people with anxiety
- Have a history of traumatic experiences
How to Prevent Hangxiety Before It Happens
The best means of preventing hangxiety is to abstain from alcohol consumption. For those able to drink in moderation, it helps to remain mindful of how much you are consuming at any given time. For those who struggle with moderate drinking, particularly those with a diagnosable alcohol use disorder, professional help (i.e., residential treatment, IOP, outpatient counseling, support groups) is the best recommendation.
Beyond abstaining, here are some ways to prevent hangxiety:2
- Avoid drinking on an empty stomach
- Eat before and while drinking
- Sip water between drinks
- Avoid concurrent use of other drugs, prescribed or recreational
- Choose beverages with fewer congeners (i.e., vodka, gin, light rum, white wine, light beer, champagne), as these are less likely to lead toward hangovers; darker colored beverages tend to have more congeners
- Limit drinks and consume within your tolerance level
- Space beverages out to at least one hour apiece, as this provides time for your body to metabolize the alcohol
Is There a Hangxiety Cure?
At present, there is no known “cure” for hangovers or hangxiety. Like with many other things, time—particularly while sober—tends to heal a hangover. Ample sleep, consuming lots of fluids, and taking it easy tend to be among the most recommended “cures.” In some cases, it may help to take light painkillers such as ibuprofen to help with a headache or vitamins and minerals to replace those depleted. As always, speak with a physician first to ensure the most appropriate course of action.
Water, water, and more water is one of the best remedies for a hangover, and it can help with hangxiety too. Alcohol tends to leave people dehydrated, but people cannot function at their best when their body is out of balance.
Take Lots of Deep Breaths
Deep breaths, when done correctly from the diaphragm, can produce a great sense of relaxation and comfort. Not only does it allow for your breathing and heart rate to slow down, but it can help you get in touch with your body.
Eat Anxiety-Reducing Foods
Hangxiety shows how the substances you consume can have a huge impact on your mental health and well-being. Shifting to foods that reduce anxiety could be a step in the right direction. Stick with leafy greens and other healthy whole food options and avoid the desire to seek out greasy or overly processed foods.
Try Mindfulness Meditation
Mindfulness is always a helpful tool, regardless of your mental health state. This form of meditation can put you in touch with your thoughts, feelings, and surroundings in a calm and comforting way.
Sleep It Off
Sometimes, the best way to manage your anxiety is to avoid it by sleeping. Taking a nap or going to bed for the night could offer a chance for your body to rest and reset.
Get Some Exercise
As alcohol changes your brain chemistry to produce this level of anxiety, exercise can offer a helpful remedy. By interacting with a variety of neurotransmitters, walking, swimming, and other forms of exercise can produce calmer feelings.
Find Ways to Relax
Movies, music, and talking with trusted friends are just a few ways to relax that you could find helpful during high anxiety moments. Sometimes, focusing too much on the anxiety does nothing to resolve your symptoms.
Recognizing an Alcohol Use Problem
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define heavy drinking as four or more drinks in a single session or eight or more in a week for females and five or more per occasion or 15 or more per week for males.8 Further considerations may include consuming more alcohol over longer periods of time than intended, spending considerable amounts of time drinking and thinking about drinking, disengaging from events where alcohol is not served, distancing from “sober” friends who do not drink, and experiences of emotional instability and negative self-talk.
When hangxiety is an indicator of alcoholism, it is important to get professional help immediately. Alcoholism, like other forms of addiction, are treatable but not curable conditions that tend to become worse over time without treatment. If you’re ready to find a therapist, you can use an online directory where you can easily search by location and specialty.
Though many people experience hangxiety at least once in their lives, continued experiences are indicative of a potentially serious problem. Hangxiety is difficult to deal with, but there are ways to cope and prevent it in the future. Preventative measures such as abstaining from alcohol or consuming moderately while speaking directly to any underlying issues with anxiety can go a long way. Help is available and recommended when alcoholism, hangxiety, and/or other problems exceed your ability for self-control.