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The relationship between anxiety & drinking

Updated: Apr 3, 2019

Have you ever felt anxious or even had a panic attack the morning after drinking alcohol? Whether you identify as having anxiety issues or not, there is a reason for this feeling.

Why does drinking often increase feelings of anxiety the next day?

The sedative effects of alcohol are short lived as it effects the balance of neurochemicals in our brain (such as serotonin which is related to our feelings of happiness, reward and memory).  As the body process the alcohol (as it does with any substance) consumed the next day, some physiological (bodily sensations) can be experienced which are similar to the feelings associated with anxiety. What is it about a hangover which exacerbates anxiety? 

This is due to withdrawal from the alcohol and can occur alongside the effects of a hangover.  In some people, these effects are barely noticeable beyond the hangover, however, in those who are experiencing anxiety issues and/or significant stress in their daily life, the effects of withdrawal can be pronounced and lead to feeling increased anxiety.  Such as mood swings (related to low levels of serotonin); dizziness, confusion, weakness, shaking which is due to low blood sugar and dehydration and these feelings can feel like anxiety or trigger it; sound sensitivity and shaking are also caused by the nervous system being on high alert as the body battles the sedative effects of alcohol; racing heart - due to the hyperactivity of the nervous system and a well known anxiety trigger as people worry whether they are having a heart attack; restlessness when trying to sleep after drinking is also common and due to the body flooding with chemicals once drinking has stopped - lack of quality sleep also feeds into anxious feelings and ability to focus and problem-solve effectively. 

What things can we do to reduce this, eg drink less, or drink water before bed or try and exercise in the morning?

Drinking less units of alcohol would lessen the severity of the bodily response to the alcohol. If the body doesn't need to work as hard to process the alcohol and reach a state known as homeostasis where "all is well" again the symptoms felt will be less.  Knowing your "limits" is good practice too, not going past the "fun buzz" into drunkenness.  Drinking water with alcohol and drinking a big glass before bed or when you wake during the night would help with hydration and lessen dehydration symptoms and therefore, lessen the feelings which can feel like anxiety.  Drinks enriched with electrolytes (such as coconut water) or making your own to drink before bed help too.  Eating before drinking too can help slow the absorption of alcohol. If you suffer from generalised anxiety would you be better off not drinking at all?

If you suffer from GAD it would be wise to be aware of the drinking and anxiety cycle to notice whether drinking is becoming a coping mechanism for you with the anxiety you experience:  You drink alcohol - feel calm (as it affects the brain) - wake the next day and feel anxious (due to withdrawal as the body processes the alcohol consumed) - feel like drinking again to relieve anxious feelings - drinking alcohol and so on.    If that pattern is realised then it would be a wise next step to reach for help both with drinking and the reasons behind it. That could be by confiding in a trustworthy family member, friend, co-worker, GP, therapist or a helpline (Al-anon UK 08000086811, Drinkline 03001231110).

If anyone can relate to feeling anxious after a night of drinking - this article would be a quick read for you in which I explain the relationship to Inews as their journalist recounts her experience with what is now being termed "hangxiety".

If you are interested in working with me Contact me here.

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