Here's Why Hangovers Make You Feel Anxious

Hangxietythe feeling of despair that comes the morning after a long night of heavy drinking.

If you've ever woken up with a fierce hangover, you may have also experienced hangxiety - the oppressive feeling of dread and despair that sometimes follows a night of heavy drinking. Hangxiety might seem like a strange followup to the uplifting feelings most of us get after having a few beers or cocktails with friends. But it turns out that the feel-good effect of alcohol actually creates the hangover anxiety.

Alcohol stimulates the Gaba (gamma-aminobutyric acid) receptors in your brain, which has a calming affect that makes us feel relaxed and cheerful, according to David Nutt - a Neuropsychopharmacology professor at Imperial College, London. As you drink more, your brain starts blocking the anxiety-inducing chemical called glutamate, which makes you that much more relaxed.

"More glutamate means more anxiety," Nutt told The Guardian. "Less glutamate means less anxiety."

But while you're feeling good, your mood is already starting to swing in the opposite direction. Basically, drinking reduces your levels of Gaba while raising the levels of glutamate. So when you wake up the next day, your body is already feeling low because of the Gaba dip. And you begin feeling anxious because there's no more alcohol to suppress the glutamate that has been stockpiled over the evening. That imbalance creates hangxiety and other problems.

It can take days for the balance of chemicals in your body to correct itself. For alcoholics, it can take years.

The low glutamate levels that occur when you're drinking are also the reason why your memories of the night before might be a little hazy. Normal levels of glutamate are important to a person's ability to create memories. For some people, the inability to remember what they did while drinking can further increase anxiety the next day. And that's not to mention that heavy drinking often makes for a night of poor sleep as well.

"If you measure sleep, when people are drunk, they go off to sleep fast. They go into a deeper sleep than normal, which is why they sometimes wet the bed or have night terrors. Then, after about four hours, the withdrawal kicks in—that's when you wake up all shaky and jittery."

Unfortunately, there's not a whole lot you can do to avoid hangxeity other than, you know, not drinking as much. And maybe taking a few painkillers, but some are definitely better than others.

"Theoretically, ibuprofen would be better than paracetamol because it's more anti-inflammatory—but we don't know how much of the hangover is caused by inflammation," said Nutt, so that remedy might not cure so much as mitigate your hangxiety. 

The key thing to remember however, is that you should never try to cure the effects of a hangover with another drink, says Nutt. Doing so is more likely to lead you to substance abuse issues and dependencies than anything else.

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