Learn / What is Hangover Anxiety?: Why Drinking Causes ‘Hangxiety’

What is Hangover Anxiety?: Why Drinking Causes ‘Hangxiety’

Sarah Shawaker
 May 26th, 2023|   Clinically Reviewed by 
Dr. Malasri Chaudhery-Malgeri, Ph.D.

Key Points

  • Hangover anxiety is the negative mental affects after a night of heavy drinking.
  • Hangxiety is caused by your brain and body trying to maintain homeostasis.
  • It's okay to drink safely, but constant hangixety could mean it's time to get help.

Hangover anxiety, or hangxiety, isn’t a diagnosis, but rather how you feel after a night of drinking alcohol. A hangover has physical symptoms like nausea and a headache, but you can have mental effects as well.

Drinking responsibly likely won’t lead to these negative feelings; however, if you’re consistently drinking a lot and feeling hangover anxiety, then it may be time to look for help. Getting treatment for alcohol addiction can help you get a handle on your drinking, so you don’t have to wake up with worry the next morning. 

Hangover Anxiety or ‘Hangxiety’

75% of those who get a hangover have some impairment in their normal functioning1, like difficulty concentrating. On top of that, roughly 22% of drinkers also experience psychological effects like anxiety and depression after a night out. This is what we call hangxiety.

What Does Hangover Anxiety Feel Like?

When you start drinking, alcohol drives a surge of endorphins in the brain2, which feels good at first. Then, after this rush, there’s a decrease in blood alcohol concentration (BAC) which leads to a form of withdrawal. This is what we commonly refer to as a hangover.

This withdrawal affects you physically and mentally, including provoking anxiety and depression symptoms. Hangover anxiety can look different for everyone, but these are some common symptoms:

  • Restlessness
  • Anxiousness
  • Ruminating on yesterday’s events
  • Heart racing
  • Feeling guilt
  • Difficulty concentrating

What Causes Hangover Anxiety?

After your endorphins drop, your brain can quite literally feel exhausted the next day. Your body uses a lot of energy trying to maintain homeostasis after being affected by the alcohol. And cortisol, the stress hormone, releases after drinking3, making you feel even more anxious. 

These factors can also exacerbate hangnxiety symptoms:

1. Social Anxiety

You might use alcohol as a “social lubricant” if you experience social anxiety. This can cause you to drink more than you should. Though for those few intoxicated hours you may feel less anxious, these feelings return as the alcohol wears off. And if you have a hangover from excessive alcohol consumption, your anxiety can skyrocket. Alcohol will enhance whatever emotional state you’re in, so if you’re anxious, it’s going to come back in full swing.

2. Water intake

Alcohol is a diuretic, so drinking it makes you dehydrated. This can contribute to hangover anxiety because low water intake, which happens while drinking, is associated with detrimental effects on mood4. The more hydrated you are, the better chance you have of being in a good mood.

3. Sleep

Alcohol causes poor sleep quality5 because it messes with your rapid eye movement (REM) cycle. This, in turn, negatively affects your mood because getting proper sleep is vital for good mood and functioning. 

4. Emotional dysregulation

Emotional dysregulation is a common symptom in disorders like anxiety and depression. It’s also associated with intense cravings, higher alcohol consumption, and is commonly experienced during hangovers6. Lowered emotional competence during a hangover can lead to negative mood and thoughts, or, what you may feel during hangxiety. This can also contribute to regretful drinking behaviors.

5. Repetitive negative thinking (RNT)

Repetitive negative thinking (RNT) is negative thought patterns that are recurring, unproductive, and common in disorders like anxiety and depression. It’s also a part of emotional dysregulation. These patterns of thinking are associated with prolonged negative emotional states6, so this can exacerbate symptoms when you experience hangover anxiety. 

How to Cope with Hangxiety

The best way to avoid hangxiety is to avoid drinking, especially in excess. Doctors recommend drinking a minimal amount of alcohol because excessive alcohol consumption can lead to various health problems such as liver damage, heart disease, and certain types of cancer.

However, if you do decide to drink, there are a number of ways you can cope with your hangover anxiety and make this experience manageable:

However, drinking responsibly, or being abstinent, can help you avoid these feelings all together.  

How to Have Fun Without Alcohol

Life can be just as fun, if not better, without alcohol. You’ll feel healthier and more energized, which can help you do more outdoor activities like hiking or kayaking. You’ll also save a lot of money from not buying drinks, which you can spend on new experiences like travel or exploring the area you live in.

You can also talk with your therapist and dig into the real reasons why you’re drinking alcohol. Why are you having this drink? And why do you feel like you need to drink so much? This can reveal deeper issues that you can work through together. 

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When to Seek Professional Help for Your Drinking and Anxiety

Taking a step back and assessing the role that alcohol plays in your life, especially if you have pre-existing anxiety or depression, is crucial. If you’re using alcohol as a crutch, and as a coping mechanism to suppress difficult feelings, then it may be time to reach out for help.

Mental Health Treatment Options

Alcohol is a depressant, so it can aggravate your existing conditions. If you drink to escape your anxiety or depression, treating the root cause of your disorder can help mediate this issue.

Attending an outpatient program can teach you skills to help you replace your drinking with healthy coping techniques. You’ll explore how drinking has been a way to hide from uncomfortable feelings, and then you’ll learn how to face those hard emotions. You’ll likely practice different talk therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to learn new positive ways of thinking. 

Virtual treatment for anxiety and depression can be a great way to learn these tools with more flexibility. You can prioritize healing and see how it fits into your life.

Alcohol Addiction Treatment Options

Detox with a licensed professional may be the first step in your sobriety journey. Safely ridding your body of alcohol can help you feel clear minded and ready to tackle treatment. Different levels of residential or outpatient care can help you replace your unhealthy coping mechanism, drinking, with positive habits.

A great option post-treatment is sober living homes. These programs are less structured than residential rehab, and provide a comfortable place for you to focus on your recovery. While living here, you’ll likely attend an outpatient program, go to work or school, and grow with other companions in recovery. 

Life Without Worry in the Morning

Drinking socially and safely is perfectly acceptable, but if heavy drinking and hangxiety is a normal thing that you’re getting addicted to as a coping mechanism, then it’s time to get help. Life can feel so much more fulfilling without hiding behind alcohol. Embrace your true self and find freedom through rehabs for alcohol addiction.

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