Why do we get anxious when hungover? 'Hanxiety' explained by expert

Woman with hangover anxiety in bed. (Getty Images)
It's safe to say a hangover coupled with anxiety isn't our favourite combination. (Getty Images)

Most of us – and if not, please tell us your secret – get anxiety to some degree when hungover.

Some 29% of the UK's population has suffered from 'hanxiety', as it's been dubbed, in the past 12 months, with nearly half of 18-24-year-olds (46%) experiencing it.

Of this age group, 45% said it stemmed from 'spending too much money' while 40% said it was based on 'oversharing information'. Sharing more than planned was the top reason across all age groups, with 35-44-year-olds reporting it most (44%), followed by 65s and over (41%).

Overall, these were ranked as the highest causes, while 'seeming too drunk', 'amnesia or memory loss', and 'acting out' were also triggers, according to the study of 2,000 UK adults by TRIP.

And with Christmas and alcohol-heavy festivities looming, we're likely to be hangxious more often. So, why does it happen? Dr Marianne Trent, clinical psychologist and host of The Aspiring Psychologist Podcast, explains.

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Why do we get anxious when hungover?

Man feeling anxious on sofa. (Getty Images)
Feeling anxious when hungover is common. (Getty Images)

Hangover anxiety is very much a real thing. How we feel before we drink, on top of how we feel the morning after, all contributes to it.

"Alcohol is a sedative and so may calm any usual anxiety you might experience," says Dr Trent. "When we wake the next day any underlying anxiety is likely to have returned but could also be joined with some extra physical discomfort in the form of a hangover."

Plus, recalling potentially cringe memories (or lack of) from the night before, is a big part of making us feel on edge.

"It might also now be intermixed with new anxiety rooted in what you may or may not have got up to the previous day," she explains.

Sound familiar?

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Is 'hanxiety' different to normal anxiety?

People toasting beer. (Getty Images)
Hanxiety is associated with alcohol, with us feeling the effects physically and mentally. (Getty Images)

While they share similar qualities, anxiety from being hungover isn't the same as generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), a long-term condition that causes us to feel anxious about a wide range of issues, affecting our day-to-day life.

"Hangxiety is thought to be different to regular anxiety because when we use substances such as alcohol our inhibitions can be lowered. This means we might do things we wouldn’t have entertained if sober," explains Dr Trent.

Of course, while it might make anything we're already struggling with worse, the cause of hanxiety itself is associated with drinking.

"The effects of alcohol on the brain may also interfere with the memory’s usual processes meaning you might not actually remember events as clearly as you would have done if you’d just drunk lemonade," she says. "This in itself can be anxiety provoking and can make people feel ruminative about their actions."

What effect can hanxiety have on our mental health long-term?

Watch: 5 top tips to boost your mental health

Being anxious when hungover isn't a health condition as such (rather a plausible consequence), but if experienced long-term, it can contribute to one.

"It can cause us to experience guilt, shame and feelings of remorse. These are incredibly difficult feelings for us to have and so sometimes people reach for additional sedatives to take the edge off them," says Dr Trent.

"Over time this can lead to a cycle of drinking to forget and to reduce the feelings of anxiety. In the longer term this can indicate a more problematic relationship with alcohol and make it more likely that we will experience some mental health difficulties as a result."

So, you may have been anxious to begin with, self-soothed with alcohol, felt worse the next day, and got into a bit of a vicious circle. That said, hanxiety can just happen as a stand-alone thing too - from too many tequilas at a friend's birthday, for example.

How can we balance alcohol-heavy festivities with our wellbeing?

Rear view of a bar man handing a wine glass over to a mid adult woman. The woman is standing with a mid adult man. In the background there is a group of friends standing and talking.
'There can be social pressure to do things ‘because it’s Christmas’ – but you always get to choose.' (Getty Images)

While the answer might be obvious – avoid drinking – realistically many of us will want to take part in celebrations over the coming months.

And though this might work best sober for some, for those who will be raising a glass or two, basic principles of looking after ourselves are always important. For example, "It’s always good to have a plan for how you will get home and the age old arrangement for having one for one of your party be designated driver can do wonders for keeping everyone safe and happy," suggests Dr Trent.

Enjoying a few drinks, but knowing your limits, will also make the world of difference the next day, and help to preserve both your physical and mental health in other ways.

And while your calendar might rapidly be getting booked up, we should never force ourselves to do things we don't want to, for our own wellbeing, and especially in the current climate.

"There can be a social pressure to do things ‘because it’s Christmas’ – but you always get to choose," Dr Trent reminds us. "You might feel additional constraints this year due to rising costs and it's okay to be assertive with people or to suggest plans such as meeting at people’s homes rather than in clubs or restaurants if you do want to save some cash."

Even if it's a big family gathering, it's okay to take part in a way that suits you.

Read more: Best UK Christmas markets 2022 – and the dates you need for your diary

You can also cut out the risk of feeling anxious from hangovers entirely, should you want to. "It’s often nice to be able to start a new year feeling rested and recharged. You might think about how you can achieve this with any break from work or study so that you feel energised, rather than depleted when the 3rd of January rolls around," adds Dr Trent.

Perhaps you'd rather spend the cost on a little nature getaway, or just focus on the food by cooking at home with loved ones.

Woman outside in morning. (Getty Images)
We can still enjoy a drink and be ready for the next day, free of anxiety, if we're mindful. (Getty Images)

With so many of us missing out on celebrations over the last few years due to COVID-19, there's nothing wrong with wanting to enjoy yourself. But perhaps Dr Trent's advise will prove useful in curbing that hanxiety.

Always enjoy alcohol responsibly

Alcohol guidelines recommend we drink no more than 14 units a week, spread across three days or more. That's the same as around six medium (175ml) glasses of wine, or six pints of 4% beer. While nothing is completely safe, staying within this limit will lower your risk or harming your health.

For more information on drinking less, visit NHS Better Health.

For support, you can call Mind's infoline on 0300 123 3393, 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday (except for bank holidays), or the Samaritans on 116 123 any time, or email for a response within 24 hours.