Hangxiety: why you get anxious after drinking
Haunted by worries about what you said or did last night? Post-drinking feelings of guilt and stress have a name: “hangxiety”. But what causes it?
You may have assumed your morning-after mood was down to your brain shrivelling like a raisin from alcohol-induced dehydration. Turns out it’s more complicated than that.
Alcohol stimulates Gaba (gamma-aminobutyric acid) production in your brain. Gaba calms you down. It's why you feel relaxed and cheerful after your first couple of drinks.
After your third or fourth drink, another thing happens: your brain starts blocking glutamate. Glutamate excites your brain. Less glutamate means less anxiety.
Now this calm and lack of anxiety might sound great - but you’d be wrong.
When you’re drunk, your body goes on a mission to bring Gaba levels down to normal and turn glutamate back up. So when you stop drinking you end up with extra low amounts of Gaba and a spike in glutamate. Minimal calming hormones, maximal excitement hormones.
Not being able to remember the mortifying things you said or did is another prime cause of hangxiety. You need glutamate to lay down memories but once you’re on your sixth or seventh drink, the glutamate system is blocked, which is why you can’t remember things.
All in all then, the perfect storm for feeling anxious the morning after.
The bad news is that there's little you can do to avoid hangxiety other than to drink less, and perhaps take painkillers – they will at least ease your headache. Hair of the dog, though tempting, won't help.
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