Hangovers are no foreign concept to college students. After a carefree night of drinking, our bodies serve up a revenge cocktail complete with headaches, fatigue, and nausea. But what about the other side of hangovers? Do you ever wake up on a Sunday morning with an overwhelming sense of guilt, paranoia, and anxiety? What about a tightness in your chest or shortness of breath? That’s called Hangover Anxiety, and it is very real.

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Alex Frank

While not an official medical term, Urban Dictionary defines Hangxiety as “the feeling of overwhelming guilt, stress, and worry you experience the day after a drinking binge.” 

A study on 1400 Dutch students revealed over half felt the general misery of hangover anxiety the day after drinking. So why aren't we talking about this more?

The first time I experienced the symptoms, I felt very alone and scared. The day after a night out with friends, I was simply walking up the stairs to my house and ended up in tears by the time I reached the top step. My heart was racing, my breath was short, and I had absolutely no idea what was wrong with me.

So, why exactly does it happen?

You're worried you did something stupid. And you probably did.

It's no secret that alcohol lowers our inhibitions. The more you drink, the more likely you are to act outside of your typical behavior. When the night's events come flooding back the next morning, many experience embarrassment and guilt from their actions.

Blackouts are no exception. Where memories are lacking, we tend to make assumptions about what we did and what others thought about what we did- leading to paranoia and confusion. This might seem like the most obvious cause of hangxiety, but it is not the only culprit.

Your brain and nervous system are not happy.

Let's not forget alcohol is a depressant. It can lower the levels of serotonin in your brain. Serotonin is our brain's happy neurotransmitter, which can be boosted with activities like exercising, eating your favorite foods, or playing in the sun. Alcohol diminishes our brains supply, leading to depression. 

Alcohol also suppresses the nervous system. As alcohol leaves our system, our nervous system springs back to life and kicks it into high gear to try to remove toxins from our body. A rush of cortisol, the stress hormone, puts our nerves into a state of hyperactivity. This leaves our adrenaline pumping harder and our hearts beating faster, which can result in feeling extremely on edge. In some cases, these physical symptoms can trigger feelings of full on panic.

You already live with anxiety or depression.

Hangover anxiety is not exclusive to those already battling mental health. However, it is much more common in those already living with anxiety or depression.

As mentioned earlier, depression is caused by lowered levels of serotonin. If you already have a low supply, by drinking alcohol you're depleting it even further. 

Meanwhile, a common symptom of anxiety is catastrophizing - the psychological term for quickly jumping to the worst possible conclusions. When you wake up after drinking and start filling in blanks from the night before by catastrophizing, it heightens feelings of anxiety even further.

How can we prevent Hangover Anxiety?

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Alex Frank

I wish there was a magic recipe to never feel this way again. Unfortunately, the solutions are quite simple and obvious. Drink less, stay hydrated, and understand the importance of nurturing your mental health.

Personally, I cut back drastically on drinking solely because of hangover anxiety. Some of my lowest points mentally have been the day after binge drinking. Even worse, I found the effects could linger into my entire week. 

Understanding the science behind why I feel anxious or down after drinking has helped a lot. When I didn't understand it, I just felt even more worried. If you deal with mental lows after drinking, know that nothing is wrong with you. Instead of worrying, try some activities to increase serotonin levels. Spend time outside, listen to your favorite songs, or exercise.

Alcohol wreaks havoc on our physical bodies, it's no surprise it can negatively affect our brain and emotions as well. While a couple drinks can absolutely lead to fun and carefree nights, it's important to have a full understanding of what you're getting into. Enjoy nights out with friends, but be sure to take care of your mental health too.