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Alcohol and Mental Health

What Is the Meaning of "Hangxiety"?

April 1, 2022
13 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
April 1, 2022
13 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
April 1, 2022
13 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
April 1, 2022
13 min read
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Reframe Content Team
April 1, 2022
13 min read

After spending the evening celebrating her friend's birthday, Hannah awakens with memories of jokes and toasts. She opens her eyes to find not only a pounding headache from the hangover, but also an unexpected feeling of dread and anxiety. Hannah is experiencing something known as "hangxiety" — a combination of hangover and anxiety. 

Why exactly does hangxiety happen? And how can we prevent hangxiety in the first place? Let's explore the science underlying this less-discussed side effect of drinking alcohol.

What Is Hangxiety?

As the name implies, "hangxiety" combines "hangover" and "anxiety." It basically refers to the uneasiness felt while suffering from an alcoholic hangover. This mood can range from a hazy sense of unease and nervousness to strong sentiments of dread and worry, depending on the individual. Hangxiety can happen even without any triggering circumstances, so it's not just about feeling ashamed or regretting events from the previous night

Why Does Hangxiety Happen?

Having a drink at the end of a long day to decrease anxiety may seem like the answer, but studies have shown alcohol can actually exacerbate symptoms of anxiety. Alcohol is categorized as a depressant, meaning it depresses our central nervous system, leaving us feeling calmer and more relaxed. Although this might seem like a quick fix, it can actually lead to a bigger problem: neurotransmitter imbalance and hangxiety. 

What causes hangxiety? To understand why hangxiety happens, we need to learn what alcohol does to our brains. When we consume alcohol, it affects various neurotransmitters in our brain, including GABA and glutamate. Initially, alcohol enhances the effect of GABA, a neurotransmitter with inhibitory effects, leading to feelings of relaxation. Simultaneously, it inhibits the action of glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter, further contributing to the sedative effects of alcohol.

However, there is a rebound effect once alcohol's effects subside. In an effort to reestablish equilibrium, the brain overcompensates, which causes excitatory neurotransmitter activity to increase and inhibitory neurotransmitter activity to decrease. Feelings of agitation, anxiety, and restlessness — also known as hangxiety — can be brought on by this disturbance in equilibrium.

Why Does Hangxiety Occur?

Another Culprit: Dopamine Depletion

What else explains why hangxiety happens? We can look to dopamine for answers. 

Our brains release dopamine when we engage in activities we find pleasurable, like eating chocolate or drinking alcohol. This dopamine release teaches our brain what actions to repeat and, eventually, develop cravings for. Repeating the habit of drinking alcohol weekly or even daily teaches the brain that it no longer needs to release dopamine, leading to a dependence on alcohol. All of a sudden we find ourselves depleted of dopamine and hankering for a drink. Why?

Think of our brain as a hamster wheel that is constantly producing dopamine and other happy hormones. The chemicals required to feel pleasure and happiness are produced by our brain on a daily basis. Then, we include alcohol in the mix. Alcohol approaches our brain and says, "Hey friend, I've got it from here. You can go take a break," causing our brain to get off the hamster wheel. 

At first, our brains might think, “Wow! This is so nice, I get to take a break!” But as the frequency and amount of alcohol we drink increases, our brain gets lazy and relies on alcohol to run the hamster wheel. This is dopamine depletion from alcohol misuse. We begin to damage our brain and alter the thresholds required for dopamine cell activation and signaling, which leads to less dopamine being released naturally.

Here are some symptoms of dopamine depletion:

  • Trouble sleeping or disturbed sleep
  • Low energy
  • An inability to focus
  • Moving or speaking more slowly than usual
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling unmotivated
  • Feeling inexplicably sad or tearful
  • Mood swings
  • Hopelessness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Guilt
  • Anxiety

How To Prevent Hangxiety

There's no surefire way to completely prevent hangxiety, meaning the best prevention method is to cut back on or quit drinking alcohol. It's crucial to keep in mind that each person's reaction to alcohol differs, so just because one person can consume a given amount of alcohol without developing hangxiety and other hangover symptoms doesn't mean everyone will. Finding what functions best for us is the goal.

To drink responsibly, we must be aware of our limitations and abide by them. This could entail rotating between alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages or setting a limit on the number of drinks one can have in one sitting. Hydrating adequately and eating enough before and while we drink can help minimize the after-effects of alcohol and prevent hangxiety.

Coping With Hangxiety

We can take action to reduce hangxiety if we experience it. First and foremost, keep in mind that hangxiety and anxious feelings are fleeting, and they’ll disappear as our body processes the alcohol. 

If it’s taken a hold of you, here are a few helpful coping strategies for how to stop hangxiety:

  1. Optimal hydration. While it might sound like worn-out advice, drinking plenty of water remains a go-to strategy to combat the physical symptoms of a hangover. It replenishes the body's water content that alcohol’s diuretic effects depleted. A well-hydrated body copes better with anxiety, easing hangxiety.

  2. Wholesome nutrition. After a night of indulgence, our bodies crave nutrients. A healthy breakfast or a nourishing smoothie can restore essential nutrients and stabilize our blood sugar levels, helping keep anxiety at bay. Opt for an omelet, oatmeal with some nut butter, or a protein-packed smoothie. 

  3. Mindful breathing. Our breath is a powerful tool to regulate our mental state. Engaging in mindful breathing exercises or meditation can calm the nervous system and reduce feelings of anxiety. We have plenty to choose from on the Reframe app! 

  4. A gentle stroll. We often underestimate the healing power of nature. A gentle walk in a park or by a river can soothe our senses, providing a respite from the chaos of hangxiety.

  5. Adequate rest. Sleep is our body's natural way of healing and rejuvenating itself. After a night of partying, a good rest can go a long way to help our body recover and to lower anxiety levels.

  6. Social connection. Sometimes, talking it out with friends who are in the same boat can help. Sharing our feelings of hangxiety can offer a sense of shared experience and camaraderie, reducing feelings of anxiety. It’s good to realize we aren’t alone in our struggles. 

Remember, while these strategies can help manage hangxiety, the best way to prevent it is by being mindful of our alcohol intake. 

Hangxiety: The Takeaways

Hangxiety is a real and sometimes distressing outcome of alcohol consumption. Though the symptoms can be bothersome and all-consuming, the good news is that the feelings will pass. By understanding what hangxiety is, we can take steps to prevent hangxiety and cope with its effects. 

Although moderating alcohol intake is the most effective prevention strategy, other measures such staying hydrated, eating well, and practicing mindfulness can also manage hangxiety. If you’ve been experiencing hangxiety, it may be time to rethink your relationship with alcohol. Though cutting back or quitting may be difficult in the beginning, the long-term benefits are well worth it. Your body will thank you! 

Say Goodbye to Hangxiety With Reframe!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol. 

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today!

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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