Hangover + anxiety = hangxiety

What it is, why it happens, and what to do about it.

Have you ever woken up after a big night out and felt a sense of dread about what you did or didn’t do the night before? And has this feeling stuck around, even if your headache and queasy stomach have faded? If so, you could be suffering from hangxiety.


A couple embracing and laughing

What is hangxiety?

While hangxiety isn’t a formal term or diagnosis, many of us know the feeling. You wake up to the regular next-day effects of drinking, desperate for a big brekky and a cup of coffee, but with heightened feelings of shame and anxiousness thrown in. Your mind races as you frantically scroll through your text messages and social media, replaying what you can remember from the night before. Did I say anything embarrassing? Did I do anything stupid? What will my friends think of me? If this sounds familiar, you’ve probably experienced hangxiety.

Most people drink alcohol to relax, lessen their inhibitions, forget troubles, or simply for the taste. But when the initial effects of alcohol wear off, your body and brain may go into withdrawal, and you can become anxious, agitated, panicked, flat, unmotivated and moody. This is similar to what people who are dependent on alcohol experience, though much less intense. For some people these feelings are minor and fleeting, while others may struggle with intense emotions for longer.

Why does it happen?

Everyone has a delicate balance of chemicals in their brain. These chemicals have an effect on how you think, feel, and make decisions.

Alcohol changes this balance. It is a depressant, which means it decreases the effects of neurotransmitters that are responsible for exciting the brain and body. Alcohol also increases the effects of inhibitory neurotransmitters that have a sedative or calming effect, slowing down reaction times and decreasing coordination. This is why many people report feeling relaxed after a drink or two.

One theory is that when your mind and body are hungover the day after drinking too much alcohol, the brain tries to fix this imbalance by overcompensating, which results in overactivity of the neurotransmitters that excite the brain and body, and underactivity of the neurotransmitters that help you relax.

Put simply, you could say it’s a matter of what goes up must come down.

Who does it affect?

If you’ve ever suffered from symptoms of hangxiety you’re not alone. It can affect anyone and is probably more common than you think. A Dutch study of 1400 students, published in Alcohol and Alcoholism, found that nearly half reported agitation the day after drinking. Others reported feelings of confusion, guilt and regret.

Hangxiety can happen sporadically, or every time you drink. Every person is different, and every night out is different. You drink different amounts, eat different foods and quantities, and you may take different medications.

If you already suffer from anxiety, or any other mental health problems, alcohol can worsen your symptoms. If you suffer social anxiety disorder, you may worry heavily about your behaviour while you were drunk; if you have general anxiety disorder you might struggle with sleep and feel extreme stress when the alcohol wears off.

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Can you prevent it?

Obviously if you don’t drink alcohol you won’t experience hangxiety! But this may not be realistic. If you suffer from anxiety, or regularly experience the symptoms of hangxiety, consider cutting back on how much, and how often you drink.

When you do drink, consider taking this advice from Drinkwise to lessen the next-day effects of alcohol:

  • Setting yourself limits and sticking to them;
  • Alternate between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks;
  • Drink slowly;
  • Try drinks with a lower alcohol content;
  • Have something to eat while or before you have an alcoholic drink;
  • Dilute your alcoholic drink by adding water or ice.

Also remember, if you’re taking any medications for your mental or physical health, alcohol and other drugs can reduce their effectiveness, and increase their side effects.

What to do

There’s no way to stop it straight away, but if you wake up feeling anxious and overwhelmed Beyond Blue recommends:

  • Slow breathing - In for three, out for three; in for three, out for three;
  • Challenge your self-talk; Try to take yourself out of your head and think rationally about your actions. It’s probably not as bad as you think.
  • Exercise - Even though it’s probably the last thing you feel like doing, even going for a walk gets you up, active and out of the house.

If you find your hangxiety is regularly lasting longer than a day, or increasing in intensity, go and see a GP.

If you’re experiencing anxiety frequently, even if you haven’t been drinking, make sure to make an appointment with a GP. And to learn more about anxiety and the effects of alcohol, visit Beyond Blue.

If you think you or someone you know might have a problem with alcohol dependency, talk to your doctor, visit DrinkWise, or the National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline on 1800 250 015. The Hotline will automatically connect you to the Alcohol and Drug Information Service operating in your state or territory. 

Learn more about anxiety

Learn more about alcohol and other drugs.

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Members with Hospital cover can talk with a mental health professional over the phone in relation to any mental health or emotional concern, 24 hours a day 7 days a week on 1800 644 325~.

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Things you need to know

~    OSHC members should call the Student Health and Support Line on 1800 887 283.

While we hope you find this information helpful, please note that it is general in nature. It is not health advice, and is not tailored to meet your individual health needs. You should always consult a trusted health professional before making decisions about your health care. While we have prepared the information carefully, we can’t guarantee that it is accurate, complete or up-to-date. And while we may mention goods or services provided by others, we aren’t specifically endorsing them and can’t accept responsibility for them. For these reasons we are unable to accept responsibility for any loss that may be sustained from acting on this information (subject to applicable consumer guarantees). 

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