Emotional Hangover? Why Alcohol Can Give You Anxiety

8 reasons drinking can make you anxious or jittery

Emotional Hangover? Why Alcohol Can Give You Anxiety

Contributor: Joseph Janesz, PhD, LICDC

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Do you ever notice yourself feeling a little out of sorts the day after you drink? Not a hangover, necessarily, but a general jittery malaise? Anxiety seems to be a bedfellow of alcohol — and for many reasons.

There are various ways that anxiety and alcohol are linked, including:

  1. Mild detoxification. Even if they only drink one ounce of alcohol, whether in a beer or five ounces of wine, they will experience a mild detox or withdrawal. Your body and liver takes about eight hours to remove what is essentially a poison. As this is happening, it can affect your central nervous system and cause you to feel jittery or anxious.
  2. Alcohol allergy. Few people may realize it, but they may be allergic or intolerant to alcohol. Anywhere from 7-10 percent of the general population has such an allergy, though it affects about 35 percent of those with Asian backgrounds. Signs include skin flushes and a feeling of being either wound up or very sleepy. Mood changes and anxiety often follow.
  3. Sleep disruption. Even one drink can interrupt the natural cycles of sleep, causing a nervous or irritable feeling the next morning. Alcohol is a mild anesthesia and will put you in the mood for sleep, at least initially, but later in the sleep stages, alcohol disrupts REM sleep and paralytic sleep, which is when your body rejuvenates itself. You’re often just not as rested the next day.
  4. Mineral depletion. Alcohol depletes folic acid, particularly in women. When women are low in this mineral, they are more at risk for breast cancer. There’s also a preliminary belief that lower levels of folic acid can alter your mood, and cause feelings of depression and anxiety.
  5. Poor food choices. When you drink, do you couple this with eating pretzels, nuts, pizza, or sweets? We tend to pair up our vices, and not only drink alcohol but also eat highly dense, problematic foods. Your body can have an uncomfortable sensation the next day as a result, which can feel like a nervous energy or anxiety.
  6. Dehydration. Many people don’t realize how dehydration can cause anxiety. Let’s say you drink a beer and martini but you don’t drink any water in between. You can wake up with a dry mouth and feeling out of sorts. It’s very important to drink plenty of water if you are drinking alcohol. Try to drink a glass of water between any and all alcoholic drinks.
  7. Neutralized mood stabilizers. If you take medication for anxiety, or you take anti-inflammatory drugs or narcotics, drinking can cause problems with anxiety. You can become agitated and jittery because your body is busy processing the alcohol, which neutralizes the effect of these medications. It’s important to pay close attention to the labels on your drug bottles and not to drink alcohol if you read a warning.
  8. Embarrassment. Alcohol is a natural disinhibitor and people can wake up feeling embarrassed about things they said or did. This can definitely cause anxiety. I’ve had patients who have shared feeling mortified because of oversharing with a spouse’s boss or fighting with a partner in a way that they never normally would. For this to happen, you don’t even need to drink a lot. Even a little bit of alcohol can tip the scales.

For some people, the anxiety actually comes before the alcohol. If they feel nervous about being in a social setting, they may self-regulate with alcohol or to other substances, such as marijuana, food or even over-the-counter medications. About 20-25 percent of the population has social anxiety.

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