Why do you feel so anxious after drinking alcohol?
Alcohol has a depressive effect on the nervous system, like a sedative, so you may feel happier or calmer after a couple of drinks but its rebound action ends up having the opposite effect, exciting the nervous system, and amplifying anxiety (hangxiety), causing you to feel more jittery, restless, irritable and fatigued.
What causes alcohol-induced anxiety?
#Hangxiety, alcohol's retching hangovers, hazy effects on memory, the horrors of the next morning - it's easy to assume that hangover anxiety is situational if you've had a hilariously chaotic, boozy night that had you tucking your skirt into your knickers, or if you think you put your foot in it! However, there's more to this than you may think - alcohol has a chemical effect on the brain that can contribute to or compound anxiety, regardless of how well-behaved or dignified a drinker you are.
Alcohol has a depressive effect on the nervous system, like a sedative, affecting the balance of multiple chemical messengers that control mood, movement and brain function. On the plus side, this can initially make you feel relaxed, happy and more confident, as alcohol taken in has an immediate and direct effect on hormones and neurotransmitters (the chemical shakers and movers of the nervous system)(1). Increased inhibitory neurotransmitters, such as GABA, cause energy levels to drop, and mood becomes calmer. A slower release of excitatory neurotransmitters, such as glutamate, blunts the attention span and memory. Speech and movement become looser as the nervous system signals are inhibited - the brain is telling the tongue and feet to move but they seem to be doing their own thing.
Unfortunately, these sudden changes in brain chemistry can have a rebound action when alcohol begins to leave the system and the body tries to re-establish normal levels. This is when alcohol-induced anxiety can take hold, especially when mixed with a cocktail of hangover symptoms.
Mental signs of hangxiety, alcohol-induced anxiety:
- Paranoid feelings*
- Self-loathing or shame
- Low mood*
- Feelings of dread*
- Jittery feelings
- Poor concentration
Physical symptoms of a hangover that can accompany hangxiety and anxiety:
- Sweating or cold sweats
- Increased sensitivity to touch, sound, light
- Faster heart rate
What happens if you drink too much all the time?
Frequent drinking can set the nervous system into roller coaster mode with frequent ups and down. The body will try to compensate for alcohol's sedating effect on the nervous system and mood in an attempt to bring everything back into balance. Overcompensation can lead to the nervous system being overstimulated; fight or flight (the body's highly-stressed reaction) is triggered and the normal sleep cycle is thrown out of whack. This can have long-term effects on sleep, anxiety levels and mood.
It's very tempting to use alcohol as self-medication - it's accessible. People use it to relax and as a crutch; it's an accepted strategy for overcoming social anxiety or when facing difficult emotional situations (such as breakups). Unfortunately, its rebound action on anxiety and mood causes side effects that can worsen mental health in the short and long-term. It may be far more sensible (and cheaper!) to consider alternatives to alcohol as a way of managing anxious feelings. Try some of the advice below or Passiflora Complex tablets or Spray for nervous system support if you are feeling under pressure.
How can I feel less anxious after drinking alcohol?
Have something to eat.
Food slows down the absorption of alcohol when you drink and makes it a bit slower to release, reducing some of the dramatic changes to the nervous system that can lead to drunkenness and, ergo, hangxiety. Likewise, the day-after alcohol-induced symptoms such as trembling, shakes, and fatigue can be caused by low blood sugar. A bit of nourishment or comfort food can sometimes feel like the best hangover cure.
Drink plenty of water.
Alcohol has a diuretic action, i.e. it makes you pee more and therefore increases your chances of becoming dehydrated no matter how much beer and prosecco you pour into you. Dehydration can amplify and exaggerate physical signs and feelings of anxiety as well as cause a headache, jittery feelings, poor concentration, thirst and fatigue.
Get some rest.
Nothing says the next day like a fleecy blanket and daytime TV. While this is not always possible, try to give your mind and body some rest to support them back to their normal equilibrium. Go to bed on time. If insomnia is a sorry reality, a few drops of Dormeasan Sleep may help to re-establish the sleep cycle. During the day, take a few deep breaths whenever you can, to calm the mind, and AvenaCalm can be used to help with mild mental stress.
|*It's important to note that ongoing, long-term symptoms of paranoid feelings, a sense of dread, low mood and anxiety may need professional attention, advice and support. Untreated or sudden intense anxiety can result in panic attacks that, while not dangerous, can be frightening. Consider talking to your GP or contact support services such as Your Mental Health information line or Aware.ie. If you are worried about your drinking, check out the Drink Aware website for helpful information and advice.