The Hangover Is Real: Why You Feel Anxious After Drinking

It was our last spring break and we were all having the time of our lives in Key West.

The week was filled with perfect weather, my best friends, crowded pool bars, beautiful sunsets, free wine and cheese happy hours, new friends…and a trip to the emergency room.

After a few days and nights filled with tropical cocktails, buckets of beers, lots of wine, and very little sleep, I woke up with a terrible hangover and decided to take a break from the spring break festivities.

I drank water, took a few Advil, and slept by the pool. The headaches and nausea went away but were replaced with chest pains and an overwhelming feeling of nervousness. While the rest of our friends went out to the bars, my roommate Lauren and I decided we’d stay in our hotel room for the night.

I figured if I went to sleep, I’d wake up feeling refreshed and ready to get back into spring break mode. But no matter how hard I tried, I became too anxious to fall asleep and was still awake when the rest of our friends returned to our room later in the night.

The pain in my chest became stronger, my breathing became shallow and I was overcome with the thought that if I fell asleep, I wasn’t going to wake up. We decided I needed to go to the hospital. Even if it was nothing, it wasn’t worth taking a risk that something could really be wrong with me.

By the time we got to the waiting room, I felt weak, my breathing was rapid, I was crying uncontrollably, and I couldn’t speak much. The rest of the night there was a blur of doctors, nurses, tears, scans and tests, and many attempts to draw my blood.

Once the medicine administered to me kicked in, I became calm and lethargic while the doctor explained to me that nothing was wrong with my heart. I was having a panic attack.

It didn’t make much sense to me. I was at the beach with my closest friends with no responsibilities, so why on earth would I be having a panic attack?

The answer? Alcohol.

Though the alcohol from the days before may have been out of my system by then, its effects were not.

While it is more likely to cause anxiety in people that have preexisting problems, alcohol has the potential to induce anxiety in anyone the next day.

As we all know, alcohol has many effects on our bodies. An imbalance in nutrients and chemicals in the body the day after a night out can lead to problems for many people. It causes your heart rate to elevate, you mood to change, your blood sugar to drop, and causes changes in your nervous system.

An elevated heart rate can cause you to question if something is truly wrong with your health, sending you into a panic. A drop in serotonin in your brain can trigger feelings of anxiety and depression. A drop in blood sugar can make you feel weak, nervous, and confused. With your nervous system working in overdrive to fight off the effects of alcohol, you can face sleep deprivation, sensitivity to lights and noises, and shaking. All of these things, or even just one of them, can be enough to spark anxiety.

In addition to these physical causes, thinking of the things you did while you were drinking may cause you to feel regret.

Whether you did something you wouldn’t normally do or are unsure of what your actions were the night before, overthinking your actions and becoming fixated on them can lead to anxiety and panic.

If drinking is causing you extreme anxiety the next day, it’s imperative to be aware of how much you’re consuming. If you already deal with anxiety without the extra stressors of alcohol, it’s important to know how it can affect your mental state when used excessively. It is especially important to know the impacts of combining alcohol with anxiety medication if you’re on it, as this can be incredibly dangerous.

Just like other hangover symptoms, there’s no quick fix to get rid of hangover-induced anxiety. With time, the anxiety you’re feeling will likely subside. But, it’s different for everyone.

If the anxiety you feel after drinking becomes frequent and interferes with your life, it could be a good idea to talk to your doctor, or think about cutting back on your alcohol intake.

For some, taking care of all responsibilities before a night of drinking can help prevent the anxiety of having to do it all the next day can be enough. For others, alcohol has to be diminished or cut out completely. It’s important to know yourself and your body to figure out what does and doesn’t work for you.

Michaela McNamara

Editorial Contributor, Virginia Tech Major: Political Science Major, Sociology Minor Her heart belongs to: Music Festivals, her friends and family, and her dog Raleigh Her Guilty Pleasures: Justin Bieber, tattoos, and Justin Bieber's tattoos

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