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Hangxiety: why alcohol can leave you feeling anxious

Cartoon-style illustration of a anxious woman covering her face with her hands while ghostly purples hands reach towards her

Ever wondered why alcohol can make you feel good . . . and then it doesn't?

Meet one of the reasons behind those nasty post-drinking feels: hangxiety (hangover anxiety).

Unlike the physical symptoms of a hangover, hangxiety is characterised as feelings of stress, panic and fear, experienced by a person in the hangover period.

So, why do we get hangxiety? And how can you manage it? Read on to find out.

Hangxiety explained

Hangxiety affects around 12% of people.

It occurs as a result of alcohol's effect on the brain. When you drink, chemical changes take place in your brain.

You know those warm, calm feelings that wash over you after a couple of drinks?

They happen because alcohol causes an influx of GABA (a chemical made in the brain) to be released into your body, this influx helps to make you feel more relaxed.

As you continue drinking, your brain also starts to shut off glutamate (a brain chemical that helps to regulate your mood), increasing feelings of calm and lowering your inhibition—making you freer and more natural.

While these feelings may sound appealing, they’re short-lived and can create problems once alcohol leaves your body.

In the hours and days after drinking, as alcohol wears off, your brain works to restore its normal chemical balance. It does this by reducing the brain’s GABA (reducing calm feelings) and increasing glutamate (making you more anxious).

This disruption of brain chemicals and processes can create the opposite effect to the feelings you had when you were drinking—and that's when hangxiety can rear its ugly head.

A hungover woman lies in bed with her arm covering her eyes

Symptoms of hangxiety

Unsure if you've ever experienced hangxiety?

Here are some of the symptoms

  • a feeling or sense that everything isn't, or won't be okay
  • a general sense of dread or impending doom
  • a sense of shame, guilt or regret about what happened when you were drunk
  • irritability
  • paranoid feelings
  • fast heartrate
  • jitteriness
  • sweating
  • trouble sitting still or focusing your mind

It’s common to experience these symptoms, along with the other physical symptoms of a hangover. The more you drink, the more intense your hangxiety might be.

How to reduce your risk

So, now you might be wondering: how can I avoid hangxiety without cutting out alcohol completely?

The best way to lower your risk is to reduce how much you drink. The Australian Alcohol Guidelines recommend no more than 4 drinks on any one day and no more than 10 drinks a week.

Here are some tips for cutting back your drinking

  • Set a drink limit and stick to it.
  • Alternate between alcoholic drinks with water or other non-alcoholic drinks.
  • Finish your current drink before you start a new one – and avoid 'top ups'.
  • Socialise more often with friends who don't drink.
  • Organise alcohol-free catch ups.
  • Get comfortable with saying 'no' to drinking.

Three friends smile and drink glasses of water

Tips for managing hangxiety

While we can do our best to avoid waking up with hangover symptoms the night after drinking, sometimes it happens. If that's the case, and you’re dealing with feelings of anxiety, there are things you can do to relieve the symptoms.

Here are some tips to help manage post-drinking anxiety

  • Be kind to yourself.
  • Drink water to rehydrate your body.
  • Eat – even if you don’t feel hungry, food helps your brain and body to recover.
  • Get some rest, whether that's a nap or a quiet day on the couch.
  • Do an activity that you find relaxing – maybe that's talking to a good friend, listening to a podcast or going for a walk.
  • Practice mindfulness—meditate, journal your feelings.
  • Avoid drinking any more alcohol—this will only delay or increase anxious symptoms.
  • Avoid stimulant drugs, including caffeine.

When to seek help

If you're struggling with your drinking or mental wellbeing, there are many different types of support available.

For help reducing or stopping drinking, you can contact Adis for free, 24/7, confidential support. Chat to them on 1800 177 833 or online at Adis Chat.

For support managing ongoing feelings of anxiety, you can seek professional help from your GP or contact Beyond Blue or Lifeline.

More information

Last updated: 26 July 2023