The Reasons You Feel Anxious the Day After Drinking

You know the physical symptoms of a hangover, but anxiety and other mood problems are also pretty common after-effects of drinking.

A blinding headache, nausea, and fatigue are the classic signs of a hangover, but anxiety the day after drinking, along with irritability or feeling down, are also pretty common effects of drinking—common enough that they've even earned a nickname: hangxiety.

For some people, these mood changes can be intense: If you have panic disorder, for example, heavy imbibing can trigger a panic attack, complete with shortness of breath and chest pain, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Why Does Drinking Lead to Anxiety?

As your body removes the alcohol from your system, your blood sugar drops because your body is diverting energy to excreting the booze rather than maintaining healthy glucose levels. According to a 2016 study in Case Reports in Psychiatry, low blood sugar can lead to nervousness and anxiety.

At the same time, inflammation kicks in; an uptick in inflammatory chemicals can affect your nervous system, reported a 2018 study in Current Neuropharmacology.

In addition, if you're prone to anxiety or depression, using alcohol to cope may lead to more serious hangover symptoms. A study published in 2022 in the Journal of Clinical Medicine found that the more anxiety, depression, and stress people reported, the more severe their hangovers were.

There may also be a more direct connection between alcohol consumption and anxiety. Alcohol links into the brain's GABA receptors, producing a calming effect for the first drink or two. However, a 2019 study in the Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse suggested that as an evening wears on—often after you've gone to sleep—alcohol boosts glutamate receptors, which are excitatory.

This is why you may find yourself wide awake in the middle of the night if you've overdone it the night before. Alcohol's boost to glutamate may contribute to anxiety well into the following day—in fact, low-glutamate diets are currently being studied in veterans with PTSD, reports a 2022 issue of Frontiers in Psychiatry.

Not only that, but alcohol consumption releases cortisol, the stress hormone, and interferes with quality sleep—and then decreases the ability to regulate emotions the next day. In a 2021 study published in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism, participants reported reduced emotional regulation after a night of drinking, and they were more likely to rate images presented to them negatively.

When you have a hangover, this study suggested, not only do you appraise everything you encounter less positively, but a negative frame of mind is also likely to get in the way of healthy coping strategies.

Finally, because alcohol famously lowers your inhibitions, you might also be worried about your actions from the night before.

There's a sure way to avoid this emotional rollercoaster: Stick to one drink and never have more than two in one night. To reduce mindless alcohol consumption, try having sparkling water or a club soda with lime between each cocktail. You can also mix lighter drinks—add mineral water and a splash of juice to white wine to make a wine spritzer, for example, or choose a light beer, which tends to have lower alcohol content.

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