Back in the salad days of youth (totally over age 21), it was possible to spend Friday night throwing back shots of candy-flavored vodka, wake up for a workout or whatever on Saturday morning, and then spend that night cruising through a bottle of Prosecco, sans consequence. Now, growing closer every day to “middle aged,” such a weekend feels like an Olympics-level feat. The further away I get from my early 20s, the worse the hangovers are. Not just worse, but more nuanced, like a glass of fine wine. There’s the typical headache and dizziness, with now-detectable notes of brain fog and, on the worst days, palpable anxiety.
I’m far from alone; hangover anxiety is so common that it’s been given its own (really bad) portmanteau: Hangxiety. And in a study on hangover symptoms published in 2017 by Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical & Experimental, over 22 percent of those surveyed reported “anxiety” as a negative side effect. Combined with the fun snarl of regret over who we DMed and what we did when imbibing, heightened anxiety is a true bummer of a hangover symptom. So why does it happen?
As Laura Veach, an addiction medicine specialist with Wake Forest Baptist Health, told VICE, it has to do with the way alcohol affects your body, and your body’s attempt to regulate those effects. While drinking may make you feel energized and hyper, Veach said alcohol serves “as a kind of sedative.”
“It depresses the central nervous system,” Veach said, comparing what happens next to a pendulum swinging back.
She explained that, just like alcohol lowers your inhibitions, it also depresses the part of your brain that regulates worries and anxiety. Which makes it easier to, say, hop up to dance on a table or kiss a stranger, to choose two totally random examples, or whatever you, personally, do when you’re blitzed. But once the alcohol leaves your system and you go into “withdrawal” (or in other words, you feel hungover), your body—in an attempt to reach homeostasis—releases a flood of the hormones that were suppressed via liquor. The pendulum swings back. And the result, for some, is a feeling of increased anxiety the day after drinking.
You know it if you’ve felt it. Hangover anxiety can feel like paranoia, and look like that thing where you comb over and over everything you did and said when drunk, and come away being like, Why did I do that, I’m such a profound idiot! (I wouldn’t know anything about this.) Veach added that, for some, hangover anxiety is so intense that it can actually trigger panic attacks, particularly for those who already struggle with some form of anxiety disorder (like roughly 18 percent of the U.S. adult population). Because alcohol leaves the body so abruptly, Veach said that some researchers even compare the drinking-hangover cycle to popping a benzodiazepine, like Xanax. It’s a shitty cycle that, theoretically, should deter us from drinking that much again, but, well.
The good news in all of this is that hangover anxiety is temporary (just like the hangover itself), and diminishes throughout the day as your body is able to properly regulate all its little chemicals. But while you’re in the throes of it, Veach recommended being kind to yourself and trying your best not to obsess over everything you did the night before. Maybe some of it was really stupid, but the feelings you have about it all the very next day are intensified by your hangover brain. Or, as VICE writer Mack Lamoureux previously wrote, there’s always “weed,” which, anecdotally, is a stellar antidote to hangover anxiety. (Or if you live in a place that’s not weed friendly, there’s Delta-8, at least for now.)
That all may sound like pithy advice, but as Veach assured, hangover anxiety is but a fleeting vibe; every hangover comes to an end, the anxiety dissipates, and you go on to drink another day.
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