Substance Use

Does Alcohol Cause Anxiety? (Hangxiety)

anxious woman at bar with liquor

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Drinking alcohol, for many, is seen as a method to alleviate stressors in daily life or manage feelings of anxiety. A glass of wine or a pint might momentarily reduce your worries and help take your mind off pressing troubles. Nevertheless, excessive amounts of alcohol can usher in unique ways that may cause people to experience anxiety, colloquially termed ‘hangxiety’.

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What is ‘Hangxiety’?

Many studies and medical experts theorize that hangxiety is related to turning to the use of alcohol to overcome social anxiety.

After a night of heavy drinking, many people have experienced throbbing headaches, dizziness, fatigue, or nausea, all – classic symptoms of a hangover. (1)

However, what isn’t frequently addressed are the psychological aftermaths: feelings of depression, heightened anxiety, or bouts of panic. Depression and anxiety can feel so powerful at times that they are often catalysts in alcohol dependence,

This brand of anxiety experienced during a hangover is known as ‘hangxiety’. Other names include ‘hangover anxiety,’ ‘post beer fear,’ or even ‘post alcohol anxiety.’

Characteristics of Hangxiety

Hangxiety can manifest as:

  • A surge in negative feelings of regret or embarrassment about the prior night’s actions.
  • Overanalyzing past conversations or behaviors while under the influence.
  • Concerns about potential memory blackouts from the previous night.
  • Intense feelings of existential dread and paranoia.
  • Symptoms akin to panic attacks, such as restlessness, increased heart rate, and difficulties in concentration.
  • Seeking reassurance from loved ones or acquaintances about one’s behavior.

For some, the profound weight of hangxiety combined with physical hangover symptoms can be a compelling motivator to stop drinking.

What is Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety disorder is a broad term that encompasses a range of psychiatric conditions in which anxiety is a primary symptom. (3)

These disorders can significantly disrupt an individual’s daily life, affecting their emotional well-being, physical health, relationships, and overall quality of life.

Causes and Risk Factors: The exact cause of anxiety disorders isn’t fully understood, but they likely arise from a combination of genetic, environmental, psychological, and developmental factors.

Types of Anxiety and Symptoms of Anxiety

Anxiety disorders can present in a variety of ways, depending on the individual, but they all have symptoms of excessive concern and fear.

Anxiety disorders that commonly co-occur with drug use disorders, particularly alcohol use disorders, include: (2) (3)

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is characterized by persistent, excessive worry and apprehension about regular, everyday events that interfere with one’s daily life. To be diagnosed with this disorder, these emotions need to persist for at least six months on most days.
  • Panic Disorder: This is identified by repeated, unanticipated panic episodes—acute bouts of intense fear and distress that can often feel life-threatening. Some individuals might feel as though they’re experiencing a cardiac event. Common symptoms include sensations of an imminent catastrophe, chest discomfort, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, and a sense of losing grip on reality.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD): Formerly known as social phobia, it encompasses a deep-seated fear of social interactions or public performance scenarios, like delivering a speech. Those affected fear that they might be perceived negatively or scrutinized, leading to overwhelming anxiety.

Typical Treatment of Anxiety

There are treatment options available for anxiety disorders. Common approaches include cognitive behavioral therapy, medication (such as antidepressants, benzodiazepines, or beta-blockers), and psychoeducation.

Some individuals also find relief through lifestyle changes, techniques that promote relaxing effects, and other alternative therapies. (3)

Alcohol and Its Effects on Anxiety

The effects of alcohol are multifaceted.

Initially, alcohol consumption elevates levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin in the brain, inducing feelings of relaxation and confidence. Ironically, the initial effects of alcohol can mirror the impact of anti-anxiety medication. (4)

Yet, as this chemical high subsides, alcohol withdrawal symptoms, including hangxiety, become prominent, showcasing how alcohol affects our mental well-being in the short term.

However, chronic alcohol abuse intensifies feelings of anxiety in the long run.

This is especially alarming when considering that anxiety disorders and alcohol use disorder frequently co-occur.

It’s a vicious cycle: those grappling with generalized anxiety disorder might self-medicate with alcohol, only to find that their substance abuse exacerbates their feelings of anxiety, and vice-versa.

Alcohol affects our system in multiple ways that can induce feelings of anxiety after drinking:

  1. Mild Detoxification: Consuming even a standard amount of alcohol results in a mild detox. This detoxification can disturb the central nervous system, leading to feelings of anxiety.
  2. Sleep Disruption: Alcohol can initially induce sleep but later interfere with the deep REM and restorative sleep stages, leaving one feeling less rested and possibly anxious the next day.
  3. Mineral Depletion: Alcohol reduces folic acid levels, especially in women. A deficiency in folic acid may influence mood, increasing feelings of depression and anxiety.
  4. Poor Dietary Choices: Alcohol consumption often goes hand in hand with unhealthy food choices, leading to discomfort and feelings of anxiety the next day.
  5. Dehydration: Alcohol acts as a diuretic, leading to dehydration. This can cause feelings of anxiety. It’s recommended to alternate alcoholic drinks with water.
  6. Social Embarrassment: Alcohol lowers inhibitions, which may lead to regrettable actions or statements, inducing anxiety.
  7. Alcohol Allergy: Some people, especially those with Asian backgrounds, may have an intolerance or allergy to alcohol, leading to physical symptoms and subsequent mood changes, including anxiety.

Can Alcohol Cause Panic Attacks?

According to one study, 25% of people with panic disorder who sought therapy also had a history of alcohol consumption. (5)

GABA, serotonin, and dopamine are just a few of the brain chemicals that alcohol affects, and when these chemicals are changed, they can affect how the body responds to ordinary events.

Due to alcohol’s effects on GABA, a neurotransmitter that often has a calming effect, severe anxiety, and panic might be brought on. Light drinking can enhance GABA and lead to feelings of calm, whereas severe drinking can deplete GABA and lead to increased tension and panic attacks. (6)

Despite the many health risks associated with drinking alcohol, you are less likely to experience an alcohol-induced panic attack if you are not already vulnerable to panic attacks.

Do All Types of Alcohol Cause Anxiety?

There is no specific study to back up the claim that one type of alcohol may have a greater effect on anxiety levels than other types of alcohol.

Although some individuals might think that because wine and beer contain less alcohol than hard liquor, they are less likely to experience anxiety attacks, this is untrue.

The type of alcohol you drink might not directly affect how anxious you are; rather, anxiety is associated with alcohol consumption in terms of quantity and frequency.

Signs of Alcohol Abuse

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, more than 18 million Americans suffer from alcohol abuse or addiction. (7)

Alcohol, when consumed responsibly, can be a part of social interactions or personal relaxation. However, when the line of moderate drinking is crossed, it becomes alcohol abuse.

Understanding the signs of alcohol abuse is crucial to recognizing a potential problem and seeking timely intervention.

Recognizing the Red Flags

  1. Frequent Intoxication: Consuming alcohol in large quantities frequently, leading to regular intoxication, is an obvious sign. This might result in slurred speech, poor coordination, and impaired judgment.
  2. Neglecting Responsibilities: When alcohol consumption starts affecting your daily tasks, causing you to miss work, school, or other obligations, it’s a cause for concern.
  3. Engaging in Risky Behaviors: Drinking in situations where it could be dangerous, like before driving or combining alcohol with prescription medication, showcases a lack of concern for one’s safety and that of others.
  4. Elevated Tolerance: Needing more alcohol to achieve the same effect or finding that you can drink more than others without feeling drunk is an indication of increased tolerance, which can be a precursor to addiction.
  5. Withdrawal Symptoms: Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when not drinking, such as sweating, shaking, or nausea, indicates physical dependence.
  6. Neglecting Personal Appearance: Individuals might stop taking care of their personal hygiene and appearance due to persistent drinking.
  7. Secrecy and Isolation: Hiding alcohol or drinking secretly, as well as isolating oneself from family and friends, can be indicative signs.
  8. Blackouts: Experiencing memory blackouts or forgetting events that occurred while drinking.
  9. Defensiveness: Becoming overly defensive when confronted about one’s drinking habits.
  10. Failed Attempts to Quit: Despite trying multiple times, I was not able to cut back or quit drinking.

Breaking the Vicious Cycle

Many people turn to alcohol as a coping mechanism, especially in social situations or to combat social phobia. However, this short-term relief can perpetuate a vicious cycle, aggravating feelings of anxiety.

The initial calm, attributed to alcohol’s sedative nature reducing cortisol levels, is ephemeral. As tolerance builds, the individual might fall deeper into this trap, complicating any efforts to combat their anxiety disorder.

Conclusively, if alcohol is becoming a central part of coping with daily challenges or social phobias, it’s pivotal to consider its long-term effects on mental health.

Substance use disorder, especially when intertwined with other conditions, can have profound implications.

Addressing Hangxiety and Seeking Treatment

Managing hangxiety demands a holistic approach:

  • Prioritize physical well-being by hydrating and consuming nutritious food.
  • Engage in calming activities, like taking a bath or listening to soothing music.
  • Communicate your fears and worries to trusted friends or family.
  • Make use of anxiety relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises.

However, a long-term solution necessitates confronting one’s relationship with alcohol. To completely circumvent hangxiety, it’s essential to either moderate or stop drinking.

If symptoms of alcohol addiction emerge, professional intervention becomes crucial.

Institutions like Zinnia Health offer addiction treatment tailored to your needs.

Struggling with Alcohol Addiction?

If you find yourself grappling with alcohol-related issues, Zinnia Health is here to offer the support you need. Zinnia’s treatment approach encompasses detoxification and counseling, ensuring you receive the best care tailored to your needs.

Limiting alcohol consumption and understanding its effects on mental well-being can be crucial steps in avoiding its pitfalls. Speaking with a healthcare professional about safe alcohol limits and engaging in therapy or counseling sessions can be effective ways to address and combat alcohol misuse.

Prioritizing mental health and alcohol consumption awareness is central to preventing addiction and the subsequent mental health challenges, such as anxiety and depression, that often accompany it.

Educating individuals about the potential mood-altering effects of alcohol and providing them with the necessary resources, like those at Zinnia Health, can empower them to make informed choices and seek help when needed.

With a commitment to healing and comprehensive care, Zinnia Health stands as a beacon of hope for those looking to overcome addiction and prioritize their well-being.


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