The pounding headache, the sweat beading on your forehead, the dry mouth, that queasy stomach. You open your eyes and regret it the second you did after getting blinded by the morning (or is it noon?) light. After a night of alcohol-fueled cheer, it’s the feeling the next morning that we dread. It makes us think why did we even drink the night before in the first place.
Hangovers truly are sinister.
And yet, we continue to drink. Some week after week, others night after night.
Many would say that drinking affords us a temporary respite from the pressures of work, family, and life in general. A few bottles allows us to take the edge off, so to speak. And before we know it, we’re on a binge-drinking spree, which we easily rationalize because after all–we had a rough day and we need to relax.
Imagine this, however: What if alcohol is the source of your stress and anxiety? What if we are just using alcohol to escape–muting the anxiety which will then return with a vengeance once the effects of alcohol wear off?
Alcohol and Anxiety: A Complex Dynamic
According to David Nutt, neuropsychopharmacology professor at London’s Imperial College, alcohol is responsible not just for the hangovers, but also the feeling of anxiety after a night of drinks. Nutt explains that a few drinks can indeed calm and cheer us by targeting our brain’s GABA (Gamma-aminobutryric acid) receptors.
However, as we drink more, we also become more uninhibited. This is because our glutamate is blocked, causing us to become our cheerful, even reckless, inebriated selves. And this is where the problem begins.
As a chemical imbalance ensues, the body starts to produce insulin to normalize our blood sugar. GABA levels are also normalized, while glutamate production is increased. Once you’re done drinking for the night, your GABA is low and your glutamate is increased. This then leads us to that sorry state of anxiety the next day. And for some, because of the glutamate spike, they also have a hard time remembering the events the night before.
Aside from these effects, alcohol can also spike up your noradrenaline, the body’s “fight or flight” hormone. While alcohol can suppress this at the beginning, it can cause a surge later on, especially in withdrawal, for those who are regular drinkers.
How Alcohol Causes “Hangxiety”
New research also causes a link between people prone to social anxiety, including those who are introverted, and the increased risk of problematic drinking. In a study published in Personality and Individual Differences, anxiety after drinking, or hangxiety, occurs more on people who are also prone to anxiety.
Even if drinking can make you feel drowsy, it negatively affects the quality of your sleep. And if you have anxiety and depression, which are worsened by lack of sleep, all these conditions are further compounded when you regularly drink.
George F. Koob, Ph.D., director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, says, “I think of hangover as, more or less, a mini-withdrawal from alcohol, and anxiety is one of the components.” While not all who has a hangover can feel anxiety, others do. And those who have pre-existing anxiety may find it worsened by regular drinking.
Furthermore, prolonged drinking can also cause anxiety disorder. “It feels like you have generalized anxiety or even panic attacks, but in fact, it’s the chronic effect of alcohol on the brain that puts the brain into a persistent withdrawal state from alcohol—and anxiety is one of the cardinal features of alcohol withdrawal,” shares Dr. Nasir H. Naqvi, M.D., and assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at the Columbia University Medical Center.
Meanwhile, those who don’t have an alcohol disorder may still experience hangxiety, primarily as the brain’s reaction to the alcoholic substance.
However, if you experience this often and you have trouble cutting down or stopping, then perhaps it’s time to seek professional help. Make your mental health your priority before things take a turn for the worse.
You may contact us at Bridges of Hope for professional treatment: 09175098826.
(Sources: https://www.self.com/: “Hangover Anxiety: Why You Get ‘Hangxiety’ After a Night of Drinking”;
http://themindunleashed.com/: “‘Hangxiety’: Why Alcohol Gives You Nasty Hangovers and Anxiety”)