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What is Hangxiety (Hangover Anxiety)?

A combination of the terms “hangover” and “anxiety,” “hangxiety” refers to the experience of feeling the physical effects of alcohol, related to a hangover (headache or stomach ache, tiredness, nausea, etc) [1], compounded by psychological uneasiness.  It is the feeling of being “on edge” after a night of drinking. It is also the feeling that “something’s not right” and being paranoid or flat out scared, and can’t explain why. 

Hangxiety is a phenomenon that can happen on an occasional or more regular basis, as it can be connected to several factors. The most common reason (and the most obvious) is linked to a generally reduced dopamine secretion. Known as the “happy hormone,” dopamine is produced by the brain and used to send messages among nerve cells, regulating our anxiety levels. And the greater the alcohol consumption, the greater the drop in dopamine, which can lead to feelings of anxiety.

Cortisol may also play a role in the emergence of feelings of “hangxiety.” Unlike dopamine, this hormone, which is linked with carbohydrate regulation, can increase stress if it is secreted in too large amounts. Excessive alcohol intake will lead to an overproduction of cortisol and may therefore lead to stress and anxiety.

Does alcohol help anxiety? Heavy drinking causes an influx of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) which makes a person feel calm and relaxed. This becomes a “crutch” for chronic drinkers. When alcohol is taken out of the picture, and the effects of alcohol withdrawal kick in, GABA is no longer present. Thus, the feeling of calmness is also taken away, leading to hangxiety.

Hangxiety
Aside from being horrible to experience, hangover anxiety or hangxiety should be taken as a warning sign of a deeper problem with drinking.

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Alcohol Anxiety 

The co-occurrence of alcohol and anxiety disorders is relatively common [2]. The research found that 20% of those with social anxiety have an alcohol misuse problem. The abuse of alcohol and anxiety often make each other significantly worse. This is especially problematic as the two are often closely linked. As is the case with many dual-diagnosis conditions, alcoholism and anxiety commonly exist together within the same person. Anxiety is both a reason that many individuals drink and a result of drinking. It becomes a vicious cycle. In fact, drinking alcohol can make an anxious person feel worse.

Here’s an illustration of a typical cycle:

  • A person drinks alcohol
  • They initially feel calm as the alcohol affects the brain
  • They feel anxiety as a symptom of alcohol withdrawal as the body processes the alcohol
  • They may want to drink again to try to relieve their anxiety
  • But this only starts the process from the origin. As the initial calming effect disappears, the person can feel anxiety after quitting drinking alcohol build again as the effects wear off

Remember, the more alcohol consumed, the greater the tolerance will be. Over time there is a need to drink more alcohol to feel the same effects. Over time this may negatively affect mental health, resulting in a higher level of anxiety and depression after drinking. Anxiety disorder makes an individual start drinking alcohol, which worsens their anxiety, which leads them to drink more and worsens their anxiety further. It’s a never-ending vicious cycle of alcohol and anxiety.

Why Does it Happen?

Hangxiety is an unofficial, non-medical term for hangover anxiety—but it’s still a real thing. In more official terms, hangover anxiety or hangxiety is a symptom of alcohol withdrawal. While withdrawal is often thought of as something that happens after someone who drinks heavily stops suddenly, it can also happen on a more mild scale after just one long night of drinking. If you are someone with a history of depression and anxiety, alcohol will make it worse.

The reason this happens all has to do with alcohol’s impact on the brain. Alcohol intake changes levels of brain chemicals such as serotonin, which regulates mood and anxiety. Though alcohol depresses the central nervous system and can have a calming effect initially, anxiety can spike back up when those feel-good effects go away. So, even though a few strong drinks might put your mind at ease for a night, you may get bombarded with feelings of dread and regret when you wake up the next morning.

How long does hangxiety last?

The duration of its effects on hangxiety varies depending on the individual and how their bodies react to alcohol. Hangxiety can linger 14 to 16 hours after the first hangover symptoms. So, while the hangover anxiety may not stay long, it is not always the case. Anxiety can persist for 3 to 7 days in those who are addicted to alcohol.

Anxiety might last for up to seven days in some people. The uneasiness associated with a hangover lasts as long as it takes the body to restore normal chemical levels. If you find your hangxiety is lasting longer than a day, you definitely need to make an appointment with your doctor. Chronic stress and anxiety can do major damage to your health and quality of life.

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How to deal with it?

When you experience hangxiety often because you are drinking regularly, it’s time to do something. You can start with speaking to your doctor about it, as they can recommend a variety of treatment methods, including therapy or medication. If you don’t feel comfortable speaking with your primary care provider about this, there are plenty of other options for you and resources for getting sober.

For those who have been experiencing hangxiety often, the first thing to do is stop drinking, as alcohol is why you have hangxiety. Some people can quit drinking completely on their own or with the help of their family and friends, but one of the best ways to guarantee success is by reaching out to treatment professionals that have experience helping people get clean and sober. Depending on the severity of your addiction, inpatient care maybe your best option.

Hangxiety Symptoms

Symptoms of hangxiety vary from individual to individuals, like with all other illnesses and disorders. Some of the common signs and symptoms of hangxiety are as follows:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Thirst
  • Headache
  • Muscle ache
  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain
  • Vertigo
  • Light and sound sensitivity
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Sweating
  • Increased blood pressure

Hangxiety
When a person continues to drink despite this, it can become a basis for the diagnosis of an alcohol use disorder.

How to Avoid Hangxiety

There are ways to prevent hangover anxiety, including:

  • Keep a log of anxiety episodes that follow drinking. This may help you understand whether certain situations or quantities of alcohol cause you stress.
  • Drink plenty of water. Hydrate during and after alcohol consumption and avoid coffee and other stimulants that may enhance anxiety.
  • Do not drink too quickly. Try to stick to one alcoholic drink per hour. If you tend to drink quickly, try enjoying a simple drink on the rocks that is better suited for sipping. The more alcohol you drink in a short span of time, the worse the hangxiety will be.
  • Avoid drinking on an empty stomach. Have a snack or quick meal before you want to drink. If that does not fill you up, you can always eat while drinking or just before bed.
  • Only drink with trusted friends. Avoid people and places that may encourage behavior that you regret the next day. You may also decide to prevent hangover anxiety by reducing or eliminating alcohol altogether.
  • Set yourself a limit. When you are in the moment and having fun, you may feel fine to keep drinking. However, those drinks will eventually catch up to you. Set a limit and stop drinking when you’ve reached that limit.

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How to Get Rid of Hangxiety

Counseling may be the most effective strategy to reduce your anxiety if you suffer from social anxiety or phobia (combined with a medication such as sertraline, or Zoloft). If you have a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), which is marked by an unexplainable sensation of concern or tension, your doctor may recommend cognitive-behavioral treatment (CBT) or talking to a therapist about your anxiety.

Also, you may be given medicines. A doctor may prescribe Duloxetine (Cymbalta), escitalopram (Lexapro), or paroxetine as antidepressants (Paxil). He or she may prescribe alprazolam (Xanax), Diazepam (Valium), and Lorazepam when it comes to benzodiazepines (Ativan). Each type of anxiety medication acts in a unique way. To find out which drug is best for you, go to your doctor.

Several of these drugs may interact with alcohol. Before taking any of these medications, discuss your alcohol use with your doctor, since side effects can be serious or fatal. Alcohol-induced anxiety, hangxiety, can be reduced by making changes to one’s lifestyle. Alcohol anxiety can be treated, but not always cured. 

How to Cure Hangxiety 

While hangxiety can happen after just one night of drinking, it can also be a sign that you may be drinking too much. Aside from asking how to sober fast, start by asking yourself why you’re drinking. One of the criteria in diagnosing an alcohol use disorder is to continue to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem. If you are frequently experiencing anxiety and are having trouble cutting back on drinking, it’s worth consulting a medical professional [3].

There is a strong link between mental health conditions, such as anxiety, and alcohol abuse. Individuals who struggle with mood disorders like anxiety are more susceptible to developing an addiction to drugs or alcohol, often to self-medicate symptoms of their underlying mental health condition. These co-occurring disorders can make each other worse without proper treatment.

To determine the most effective ways to treat hangxiety, it’s crucial to first get an accurate assessment of all the symptoms. When the symptoms have been evaluated by a mental health professional, it may be determined that another form of mental condition is present and needs a particular type of treatment. Very often, some combination of psychotherapy, medication, and/or lifestyle changes are effective for coping with functional.

Medically-Assisted Detox

Detox is often considered the first stage of treatment. It will help you navigate the complicated process of alcohol withdrawal, but it doesn’t address patterns of thought and behavior that contribute to drug abuse. Various treatment approaches and settings can help provide the ongoing support necessary to maintain long-term sobriety after you complete detox.

Cravings are very common during detox and can be challenging to overcome. This often leads to relapse. Constant medical care provided during inpatient treatment helps prevent relapse. Clinicians can provide necessary medication and medical expertise to lessen cravings and the effects of withdrawals.

Psychotherapy for Depression and Anxiety

Several different modalities of psychotherapy have been used in the treatment of depression including:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – is an effective treatment that involves making changes in both the patterns of negative thoughts and the behavioral routines which are affecting the daily life of the depressed person for various forms of depression.
  • Person-Centered Therapy – is a strategy that allows and encourages clients to understand and resolve their concerns in a safe, supportive environment.
  • Solution Focused Therapy – is an approach interested in solutions that can be quickly implemented with a simple first step leading to further positive consequences.

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Substance abuse and mental health disorders often co-occur. In many cases, traumatic experiences can result in a mental health disorder and substance abuse. Dual diagnosis rehabilitation treats both of these issues together. The best approach for the treatment of dual diagnosis is an integrated system. In this strategy, both the substance abuse 

problem and the mental disorder are treated simultaneously. Regardless of which diagnosis (mental health or substance abuse problem) came first, long-term recovery will depend largely on the treatment for both disorders done by the same team or provider.

Medication-Assisted Treatments

Medication-Assisted Treatments (MAT) for substance use disorders and mental health disorders are commonly used in conjunction with one another. This includes the use of medications and other medical procedures. During your rehab, the staff from your treatment facility will help you identify what caused your addiction and teach you skills that will help you change your behavior patterns and challenge the negative thoughts that led to your addiction. Sometimes, the pressures and problems in your life lead you to rely on substances to help you forget about them momentarily.

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Hangover anxiety or hangxiety is a symptom of alcohol withdrawal. The development of alcohol tolerance and withdrawal are indications of alcohol addiction. If you or a loved one are struggling with long-term addiction and a co-occurring mental health condition such as anxiety and depression, contact one of our helpful treatment specialists today. We Level Up rehab center in New Jersey can provide information on dual diagnosis and detox programs that may fit your specific needs.

hangxiety
Dual diagnosis is the treatment of mental illness, like anxiety, along with substance use disorders.

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Sources:

[1] NIAAA – https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh22-1/38-43.pdf

[2] NCBI – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3860396/

[3] NIH – https://medlineplus.gov/anxiety.html