Why You Sometimes Feel Anxious The Morning After A Night Of Drinking

Drinking, in moderation, can be a lot of fun. It can allow you to let loose on the dance floor, relax after a long day, and may even help in dealing with your aunt who keeps asking why you're still single during holiday family gatherings. Sad occasions, happy occasions, stressful occasions, and everything in between — our society always seems to find a reason to imbibe.

According to a 2021 Gallup poll, 60% of U.S. adults drink alcohol, with beer being the most consumed alcoholic beverage at 39%. Drinking is so ingrained in our culture that 25% of U.S. adults binge drink weekly and over 90% of people who drink excessively report binge drinking behavior, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That's a lot of alcohol being consumed, and a lot of hangovers being had.

But hangovers aren't the only downsides to drinking. In addition to the obvious long-term effects of alcohol like cirrhosis of the liver and heart disease, per the CDC, there's also something that's known as "hangxiety" which can creep into your brain the morning after you've been on the sauce all night.

What's hangxiety?

If you've ever woken up after a night of drinking and felt anxiety and shame, then you've experienced hangxiety. According to a 2019 study published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine, 12% of people report waking up with anxiety after a bout of drinking, with the severity of the anxiety varying from person to person.

It should come as no surprise that drinking does a number on the brain. It also adversely affects other parts of the body, including the nervous system. When we drink, the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain is stimulated, relaxing the nervous system and slowing brain function. Alcohol also causes dopamine and serotonin to increase, giving that euphoric, sedated feeling. But all these things are leveled out when the alcohol leaves the body, potentially leading to anxious feelings.

"The more you drink — both in a single sitting and chronically — the greater changes there are to GABA and other neurotransmitter systems that are affected by alcohol," Dr. Joseph Schacht, associate professor of psychiatry in the Division of Addiction Science, Prevention, and Treatment at the University of Colorado told Self. "These issues can essentially shift your brain's 'set point' and make it easier for alcohol to 'tip' the brain into anxiety."

In other words, you're not just physically hungover, but you've got a major case of hangxiety to boot.

What are the causes?

Not everyone experiences this type of anxiety after drinking, and even those who have, don't experience it every time they drink. That's because there are a number of factors that contribute to hangxiety.

People with social anxiety are more prone to hangxiety because the inclination toward anxiety is already there. "Many people use alcohol as a social lubricant," Cyndi Turner, LCSW and Clinical Director at Insight Into Action Therapy told Healthline. "About two drinks, or a blood alcohol concentration of 0.055, tends to increase feelings of relaxation and reduce shyness." Because of this, when someone with social anxiety comes back down from their relaxed buzz, their social anxiety can go into overdrive. Other factors that can lead to hangxiety are dehydration, certain medications, intolerance to alcohol, and even bad sleeping habits, per Greatist.

However, hangxiety is avoidable. For starters, you could quit drinking altogether. But if that's not a fit for you, you can drink less, drink water in between alcoholic beverages, be mindful of your tolerance, get enough shuteye, and never drink on an empty stomach. While these tips won't guarantee that you'll never experience hangxiety again, they can make your hangxiety less severe and hopefully limit how often you have it.