It is no secret that the UK is a nation that loves a tipple or two, but it’s safe to say that one of the biggest drawbacks of drinking alcohol is the hangover you experience the following day. Yet, did you know that some people get so hungover they feel anxious? It’s a phenomenon called ‘hangxiety’.
Millie Gooch, 32, decided to quit drinking six years ago after getting constant ‘hangxiety’ following a session of drinking.
"I crafted my whole persona around being a party girl. Drinking became the only thing I’d look forward to - now I’m much happier," Gooch, from Kent, says.
"It was so hard to untangle the cycle - drinking made me anxious, and I’d cope with it by drinking more."
Gooch adds that she began to drink heavily after starting university, where she became a "regular binge drinker" in the space of a week.
In 2011, Millie graduated but she says her problems with alcohol became worse when she got a job in the media industry. She found it hard to say no to constant pub trips and networking events with complimentary champagne.
Millie says she soon found herself in a continuous cycle of anxiety, depression and drinking to self-medicate.
She adds that she began to wake up feeling "filled with shame" after a big night night, and that her ‘hangxiety’ levels would take hold for ‘weeks’.
"Shame can be quite a big trigger for drinking," Gooch, who now runs Sober Girl Society full-time, says. "I’d go out and wake up in other people’s homes, not remembering how I got there. The day after a night of drinking, I’d wake up and feel really low. It was a two-fold effect - obviously, the alcohol itself taking hold, but I’d have real blackouts.
"I’d get so paranoid - what did I say? What did I do? Is everyone really p*ssed off with me? Hangovers were lasting longer and longer - and by the time I’d start to feel better, it was suddenly Friday, and time to go out again."
Gooch says a ‘sense of clarity’ is what caused her to quit the booze in 2018.
"I didn’t want to use drink to cope with social anxiety - I was sick of going on dates and not being able to remember what happened the night before," she says. "It was miserable, and I was struggling."
Five years on Gooch says she feels a lot calmer since she stopped drinking.
"I’m able to manage my mental health a lot better," she adds. "I’m much more stable - I no longer create all my own problems and disasters. I’m much happier."
What is ‘hangxiety’?
"Hangxiety is a complex emotional state that results from several interconnected factors. Alcohol is a depressant that affects neurotransmitters in the brain, which has calming effects. Excessive alcohol intake can disrupt this balance, leading to anxiety," psychotherapist Ella McCrystal explains.
Hangxiety affects around one in 10 people as a 2019 study found that 12% of people experience anxiety brought on by a drinking session.
Chloe Brotheridge hypnotherapist and coach at Calmer You says that some people may be more prone to it than others, especially if you already suffer from anxiety.
"According to the Mental Health Foundation in 2022/23, an average of 37.1% of women and 29.9% of men reported high levels of anxiety," Brotheridge adds.
Along with messing with your brain’s balance, your body also experiences increased cortisol levels - the stress hormone - in the day after drinking alcohol.
"You might worry about what you said or did while under the influence, or be concerned with how much money you spent. Maybe you drunkenly texted your ex, or had an argument with a friend. If you had a late night, sleep deprivation can also put you into fight or flight mode, making you feel anxious," Brotheridge says.
McCrystal adds that other hangover symptoms such as dehydration, disrupted sleep, headaches, and nausea can further lead to and intensify feelings of anxiety.
"Hangxiety is relatively common, especially among individuals who engage in binge drinking or heavy alcohol consumption," she says.
"It can vary in intensity from person to person and can also depend on individual factors such as genetics, tolerance to alcohol, and mental health."
How to cope with ‘hangxiety’
While the obvious solution is cutting out alcohol consumption completely, this might not work for everyone, and McCrystal says that addressing hangxiety is a ‘multifaceted approach’.
"Reducing alcohol consumption or practising moderation can help prevent hangovers," she explains. "Staying hydrated and taking care of your physical well-being can also alleviate some of the physical symptoms associated with hangovers."
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Brotheridge agrees that hydration is key to preventing hangover induced anxiety.
"Water is your best friend the day after," she says. "Alternating drinks of water with alcoholic drinks while you're out can also help. You might consider some gentle exercise the day after to boost those endorphins. If you know you're going to be drinking at the weekend, aim to arrange any important meetings or deadlines for later on in the week, so that your schedule on Monday isn't looming over you and giving you the 'Sunday scaries’."
McCrystal adds that, ultimately, if you suffer from hangxiety then the best way to deal with it is one that works best for you.
"Some individuals may choose abstinence if they find that alcohol exacerbates their anxiety or negatively impacts their life, while others may work on harm reduction strategies," she explains.
"It's essential to consider one's relationship with alcohol, overall mental health, and seek professional guidance when necessary."
Additional reporting by SWNS
More information on sobriety
Health: Why going sober could be the key to fitness success (Herald Scotland, 3-min read)
Tamzin Outhwaite credits health to being 'sober curious' - but what does it mean? (Yahoo Life UK, 4-min read)
How much does drinking booze cost you? Use this Sober October calculator (Bradford Telegraph and Angus, 3-min read)