Anxiety after a night of heavy drinking has been widely dubbed as “hangxiety” or is often referred to as “beer fear.” However, what is it and what impact does it have on your health? For many people, a few alcoholic beverages are essential to easing social anxiety, as alcohol depresses the body’s central nervous system, causing a short-lived feeling of relaxation. As well as the typical negative side effects of a hangover, including feelings of nausea, headaches, and puffy eyes, alcohol can also leave people feeling anxious the following day. 

Addiction Therapist Phil Jackman at Private Rehab Clinic, Delamere, has provided an in-depth look at why alcohol can cause rising feelings of anxiety. He has also delved into the short-term and long-term impact this can have on an individual’s mental well-being. 

“Alcohol is commonly consumed in social situations and is often used to help people reduce feelings of anxiety, relax, and ‘loosen up’. In fact, Delamere research has shown that 20% of women use alcohol to boost their confidence in a social setting and a further 56% of Brits say that relaxation is the most common reason for consuming alcohol. 

“When alcohol starts to leave the system, negative feelings and anxiety begin to creep in, and this is often felt more severely the day after a night of excessive drinking.

Why can alcohol make you feel anxious?

“Excessive alcohol consumption can cause a person to experience short-term memory loss. This is because alcohol slows down the communication between nerves in the part of the brain that affects memory. Alcohol-related blackouts and memory loss can be a significant source of anxiety for people the day after drinking alcohol.

“Aside from feeling anxious over what you may have said or done the night before whilst inebriated, there are also other biological elements to why alcohol can leave you with hangover anxiety.

“After consuming alcohol, the body needs to metabolise it through the liver to remove the toxins from the body. The detoxification process causes the body to feel mild withdrawal symptoms, as it processes the alcohol from the system. These withdrawal symptoms take the form of feelings of anxiousness, worry and feeling restless.

“For people who regularly experience anxiety and use alcohol as a coping mechanism, this can lead to a vicious cycle of drinking to reduce feelings of hangover anxiety. This can potentially lead to an unhealthy relationship with alcohol and can result in an individual to function in day-to-day life.

“Alcohol’s impact on sleep quality can also be a trigger for anxiety. When alcohol is consumed, it depresses the body’s central nervous system, which is what causes feelings of relaxation. However, depressing the central nervous system is disruptive to the body’s sleep pattern, leading to less time spent in REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. 

“This then means that sleep is often disturbed after consuming alcohol. Studies have found that sleep deprivation can trigger feelings of anxiety the next day.”

How can you reduce drinking alcohol safely? 

If you have found that your alcohol consumption has increased and you would like to reduce intake, it’s important to seek tailored advice from a medical professional. The team at Delamere have provided five tips for someone who is trying to cut back on heavy drinking. 

1. Reduce consumption day by day 

It’s important to reduce alcohol consumption safely. It is safer to gradually detoxify from alcohol rather than quit all at once because withdrawals have the potential to be fatal. 

Try limiting yourself to drinking no more alcohol than required when weaning off. Drink enough to limit your withdrawal symptoms and gradually start to reduce consumption per day. 

2. Increase the amount of time per drink 

Try extending the period of time between your next drink. To reduce the amount of alcohol you consume daily in a safer and more bearable way, set a specific time period to have before starting your next drink. 

Some people find it easier to drink soft drinks or water in between. This gives you something to do while you wait for your next drink and hydrates you. 

When cutting down consumption slowly, you will find it easier to stop drinking completely when you are ready. You can gradually increase the time limit in between each drinking period. 

3. Keep a drinking diary 

Keep track of every time you consume an alcoholic drink. Record how often you drink each day, how much alcohol you consume and where you were when you consumed it. From this, you can visualise and monitor how much alcohol you are consuming each day, week and month. 

Compare this to your end goal. If you’re having trouble reaching your target, seek support from a professional and try to change your habits and ways of reducing consumption. 

4. Keep the mind and body busy 

Try changing your social habits, by taking up a new hobby or project to work on, or visiting friends and family in an environment that doesn’t involve drinking. Walking, painting, physical exercise, and even going to the cinema or out for an alcohol-free meal are all great alternatives to drinking.

5. Ask for support

Cutting down your alcohol consumption is not always easy. Seek advice from your friends, family and medical professionals. Addiction specialists can provide a tailored treatment plan to support you on your journey to sobriety.

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