Hangovers can be pretty awful. The pounding headaches, nausea and dehydration following a night of drinking may take the fun away from the night before.
What can make a hangover feel even worse is a heavy dose of ‘hangxiety’ (that’s hangover anxiety). Whether it’s replaying conversations or social interactions of the night before, or rereading alcohol induced cringeful text messages, a significant 22.6% of people experience anxiety as part of their hangover.
But experiencing hangxiety could indicate something much more serious. It could highlight underlying generalised anxiety disorders, or even alcohol use disorder (AUD). So, it’s important to be able to recognize the difference between hangxiety and more severe disorders, when to seek help and what help is available, such as therapy or even an alcohol rehab center who can help address the issue.
Experiencing Hangxiety, although unpleasant, isn’t always indicative of something more serious. But, being able to recognise the signs of anxiety disorders, alcohol use disorders or even functional alcoholism can help to differentiate these from simple hangxiety.
The relationship between alcohol and anxiety is complex. While hangxiety can feel similar to general anxiety – think racing heart, restlessness and overwhelming worry – it often surpasses around the same time as other hangover symptoms.
Those already prone to anxiety, especially because of an anxiety disorder, may experience symptoms of hangxiety longer, up to several days and can disrupt the ability to function.
The problem occurs when anxiety sufferers use alcohol as a sedative to calm symptoms of anxiety in social situations. Relying on drink to feel more comfortable when socialising could lead to dependency. Further still, dependency could then develop into addiction.
Using alcohol to temporarily relieve feelings of anxiety, despite knowing this will be followed by hangxiety the next day creates a vicious cycle. It could then lead to using alcohol to dwell the hangxiety symptoms.
Frequently experiencing anxiety after drinking might mean it’s time to take a step back and reevaluate relationships with alcohol, and consider the presence of Alcohol Use Disorder.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), AUD is a medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences.
But what does this mean in relation to hangxiety, anxiety and alcohol? About 20 percent of people with social anxiety disorder also suffer from alcohol dependence. Drinking to reduce anxiety symptoms, while knowing that it will make them return ten-fold the next morning, and doing it anyway suggests an unhealthy relationship to alcohol.
Other signs of AUD include Struggling to drink ‘in moderation’, self-medicating with alcohol to deal with social anxiety or increasing the amount needed to feel the effects of alcohol to reduce anxiety.
Prolonged misuse of alcohol could ultimately make both anxiety and AUB conditions worse. AUD can be classified as mild, moderate, or severe depending on how many symptoms you’ve checked off, and each level requires different treatment and management.
Whether mild to severe alcohol use disorder, there are many treatments for alcoholism. From behavioural therapies, mutual-support groups, and/or medications, recovery from AUB is possible.
There are several routes that can be taken, including residential ‘rehab’ treatment, outpatient treatment, like therapy or support groups like AA can work alone, or in conjunction to support and maintain recovery.
Being honest with friends and family about struggles with anxiety and alcohol could mean socialising in different situations, without alcohol may increase. Being surrounded by a support network, alongside professional treatment, will increase the chances of ongoing recovery.
Avoiding hangover anxiety doesn’t necessarily mean not drinking at all. Understanding limits and learning to drink in moderation can assist in alleviating anxiety symptoms after drinking.
Instead of relying on alcohol to get through socialising, developing alternative methods of coping with difficult situations will help to address dependence on alcohol in these triggering scenarios.
Similarly, ensuring to drink water and have a substantial meal before going out drinking will also help to avoid overindulging. Don’t forget the importance of sleep either! Alcohol and late nights can impact not only length but the quality of sleep. So try to get sleeping cycles back on track after a night out!
Understanding motivations for drinking, acknowledging anxiety feelings and recognising existing anxiety disorders and how alcohol affects these is important when considering if hangxiety is a sign that help is needed.
Understanding triggers and developing alternative methods of coping in social situations will reduce the risk of severe increases in anxiety or alcoholism. More importantly, recognising when there is a need for professional help and seeking out the right treatment path will ensure that recovery is possible, and symptoms or disorders don’t worsen.
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