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Quick Help for Hangover Anxiety after Drinking Alcohol

Wendy M Yoder, Ph.D.
Quick Help for Hangover Anxiety after Drinking Alcohol

Along with making your head hurt, your stomach queasy and your resolution about not drinking ever again more memorable, hangovers can also bring about anxiety. Anxiety and hangovers are often closely related. If you are a naturally anxious person, and/or someone who has been clinically diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, a hangover may trigger unwelcome feelings of stress that are hard to control.

Read on to find out how a hangover can increase your anxiety, as well as what you can do when it happens.

Depression and Mental Health After Drinking

Not everything related to the development of anxiety is going to be easy to understand. One of the things we know about the brain after alcohol use is that it's not uncommon for depression and anxiety to feel worse. This is related to neurochemical changes, combined with some of our thoughts after a heavy night of drinking - making it feel even worse. 

If you feel depressed and anxious after drinking, you have plenty of company. The surest remedy for the physical changes during alcohol withdrawal is time, but you can do some things to lessen the anxiety and ease some of your symptoms in the meantime.  

Hangover Pains and Paranoia

One of the most significant issues with anxiety after hangovers is worries about what you did while under the influence. Whether you remember it all or not, these feelings are natural, but they can also be exaggerated because of the physical effects of being hungover. Add a history of anxiety to the mix, and it can feel uncontrollable.

Hangovers cause more than just anxiety, and some of those symptoms can feed that anxiety as well. The symptoms you may feel when hungover can be distressing enough by themselves, but may also become objects of fixation, causing you to obsess about what they might mean.

A headache, which can range anywhere from a mild twinge to a painful pounding sensation, is probably a familiar sensation to someone with anxiety. Stress headaches are common among highly anxious people and, as with any headache, including those caused by hangovers, they can make you worry that something is wrong with your head. If you can’t clearly remember prior events, the stress from this pain may be even worse, causing you to wonder if you physically injured yourself.

Nausea can cause similar paranoia. In addition, if your nausea is severe enough to cause vomiting, you may start to worry that you ate something bad or that you have some kind of virus. Vomiting can also contribute to dehydration and make it hard for you to keep food down, which are conditions that make you even more prone to stress due to physical strain.

Another problem may be actual injuries sustained while drinking that aren’t noticeable until the hangover and sobriety hit. These injuries can be frightening and disturbing, especially if you don’t remember how you got them, and your imagination can run wild. Pain from an injury may be as simple as a bump or bruise, but the potential for something significant is there as well.  If you find yourself with this worry, it's okay to see a doctor. But make sure you're drinking water, examining yourself in a mirror, and talking to your friends about the likelihood of injury.

Severe Dehydration

Drinking alcoholic beverages, as well as vomiting caused by nausea, can result in dehydration. Typically when you are dehydrated, your body usually produces a hormone Vasopressin  that causes you to stop urinating as much to retain as much water as possible. Alcohol decreases the amount of anti-diuretic hormone in your body, meaning that you urinate more frequently, which rapidly reduces the amount of water in your body.

The symptoms of dehydration can include headaches, decreased blood pressure, and dizziness or fainting. Not knowing why you are dizzy can be a scary experience and lead you to suspect that something has gone wrong with your brain. Fainting can also be highly disorienting and alarming if you don’t realize why it is happening. If this occurs:

The Anxiety of Confusion and Memory Lapses

Both confusion and memory lapses are common for people with hangovers. The confusion may initially result from feeling terrible and not remembering why. After the initial confusion, you may still find yourself unable to think clearly, either due to physical pain or dehydration, and fatigue due to poor sleep quality. This inability to think clearly may lead you to jump to conclusions (for example, “My head hurts: I must have a concussion!”).

Confusion can also be caused by lapses in your memory. Not being able to recall what happened prior to waking up with a hangover and all its accompanying symptoms can cause a great deal of stress, causing you to speculate about every bad thing that might have happened to you. The list is essentially endless, particularly after a blackout, when you don’t remember a period of time - almost anything could have happened. More reasonable concerns include saying things you didn’t mean, while more intense fears can come from imagining that you were attacked or abused by someone.

Anxiety From Regretting Bad Decisions

If you do remember your actions and behavior before the hangover, chances are they were slightly uncharacteristic and often regrettable. When you lose impulse control due to the consumption of alcohol, just about anything you can think of saying or doing has a chance of getting said or done.

Unfortunately, drinking with people you are close to can lead to saying and doing things that you will be forced to confront the results of the next time you see them, the prospect of which can make you feel anxious and even panicked.

If you don’t remember your actions or behavior, evidence of them may be present in your surrounding area that may cause you regret and stress, especially if any destruction of property is in evidence and the property was left there by someone else, or was being held for or borrowed from a friend or loved one. If you're suffering from regret, make sure you do the following:

Confronting Reality

In an isolated incident, the reality surrounding you during your hangover may be less of a cause for stress than it seems. In some cases, a rational assessment may lead you to believe your behavior has genuinely caused you problems, and it may be time to reach out for help.  This does not mean you should panic, though. Proceeding with a level head will help your ability to address your concerns productively and move forward. 

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