‘Hangxiety’: Why Some Of Us Feel Anxious After A Big Night Out

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‘Hangxiety’ can be described as that sinking feeling of dread that some of us get when we wake up after a big night of drinking, as we try to scrape together whatever energy (and dignity) we have left to get on with a more sobering day.

While our thoughts and feelings aren’t always legitimised by those friends or partners that don’t seem to suffer at all there is something that is actually going on in our brains which causes those feelings of anxiety.

The Science Behind ‘Hangxiety’

What’s going on in our brains actually kicks in before our hangovers do.

For our body to function properly there are a series of systems that are constantly working together. One of those systems is the neurotransmitter called GABA and glutamate, another neurotransmitter in the brain.

GABA and glutamate are important to the ‘hangxiety’ equation because they are responsible for the body’s balance, ability to move, thought processes, alertness, the five senses and most importantly for producing a calming effect on our brains. In fact, scientists believe GABA plays an important role in nerve cell hyperactivity linked with anxiety, stress and fear.

For example if the body’s neurotransmitters were perceiving a harmless situation as a dangerous one, GABA would regulate that fear.

But when the last round of free drinks are called or when the gals are charging up for a bigger night ahead, GABA and glutamate can’t do their job properly.

That’s because alcohol is an agonist of GABA meaning it replicates the activity of the GABA by giving us those relaxed and tired feelings while drinking.

But it also blocks it from functioning on its own properly meaning once we stop drinking and wake up, people’s brains are frantically redressing the imbalance by producing more glutamate and blocking GABA, that was overstimulated on the dance floor the night before.

Right about then is when the unsteady, existential hangover kicks in.

Research also shows dopamine levels, which also help with regulating moods and anxiety, are lower during hangovers. Not to mention sleep deprivation caused by drinking, which can lead to declines in both mood and cognitive functions like attention and memory.

So all in all our brains do hate us for those big nights.

Is There A Cure?

According to the National Institutes of Health anxiety during hangovers affects roughly 12 percent of people and varies in severity depending on the person.

Research has found that people who catastrophise pain are more likely to experience anxiety and bad hangovers.

But anxiety stemming from drinking might not happen every time someone drinks and it’s also not just conclusive to people who have already been diagnosed with anxiety. Suffering from hangxiety can occur for someone who is going through a personal or tough time and so responds to alcohol a bit differently than they usually do.

It is important to note that feelings of ‘hangxiety’ can be linked to symptoms of alcohol use disorder.

If you’re wondering if there’s a cure…dry July? No, sadly there isn’t a real cure but there are ways to deal with hangxiety when it crops up, and of course being more mindful about our alcohol consumption and cutting back on how much we consume always helps.

Dr Julia Lappin from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre told Triple J Hack that if someone is feeling anxious the morning after a big night, “it’s important to recognise the signs, before panicking”.

Dr Lappin suggests we be kind to ourselves, “go for a walk [and] breathe deeply” and that you should talk to a friend “whose judgement you trust.”