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Blog: Hangxiety (November 2019)

With the festive season fast approaching our Peer Collaborative Coordinator, Hayley Chandler, talks about the consequences many people feel after a night of drinking.

The fear, hangxiety, the booze blues… it goes by many names but for some people it all adds up to the same feelings of guilt, shame, anxiety and depression that follow a night of drinking.

There are a several reasons why you might end up feeling this way.

  • Alcohol blocks the receptors in your brain which register stress so initially you will most likely feel calmer after a drink, which is why people often turn to it when anxious. After a while your body will start to overcompensate for this and once the effects of the alcohol have worn off you can be left with more anxiety than you started with.  It takes a few days for your brain chemistry to come back into balance
  • Your physical health will often suffer after drinking a lot. If you are feeling tired, sick, shaky and headachy, chances are you won’t feel great mentally either. Tied in with this is the fact that drinking affects quality of sleep. While you may sleep for longer and drop off/pass out quicker after drinking, your REM cycle will be shorter. This crucial part of the sleep cycle helps us to regulate learning, memory and mood which obviously ties in with your mental health.
  • Drinking can lead to an outburst of pent up emotions. If you were already feeling anxious, angry or low before you started drinking, these feelings may come out in words or actions once inhibitions are down, leading to possible regrets over what you said or did the next day. This anxiety can easily turn to paranoia if you can’t really remember what happened, another common side effect of drinking.

What can you do to feel better?

All you can really do immediately after is rest, try and eat once you’re able to, take some pain killers for the headache and drink plenty of fluids. Preferably not alcoholic fluids - this just delays the inevitable.

What can you do differently next time?

The obvious answer is to drink less when out but as said, alcohol lowers inhibitions so this is easy to say at the beginning of a night out but can be difficult to follow through on after a couple of drinks. Here are a few ideas to help with this:

  • Eat properly before or during if you are drinking with a meal.
  • Smaller drinks. Have a half instead of a pint and avoid doubles if drinking spirits.
  • Make every other drink water or a soft drink.
  • Avoid rounds. This can be difficult as it such a big part of pub culture, but once you’re in a round the temptation is to keep drinking until everyone has bought a drink. It’s annoying to be getting halves and soft drinks whilst continuing to pay for everyone else’s pints, so say from the beginning that you’re trying to drink less/not at all so will get your own drinks. Or start a mini round with someone else who is also trying to drink less.
  • Leave your cards at home and just take enough cash for the night. This way you can decide ahead of time how much you want to drink.
  • Get a pal to join you. Unfortunately people don’t always take well to other people drinking less or not at all and may question why or try and encourage you to drink more. Having someone to back you up and to talk to can help.

Is drinking a problem for me?

Drinking is such a part of the culture in Scotland that it can be difficult to see when it has become a problem. Some warning signs might be:

  • Relying on alcohol to relax. Alcohol might be stopping you from finding other, more sustainable ways to cope with stress and anxiety
  • Relying on alcohol to express your thoughts and feelings. It’s important for good mental health to be able to express how you think and feel, especially if you’re struggling. If you can only do this after a drink it may come out in ways that you regret later and you are unlikely to feel the same sense of release and connection.

Thinking about stopping drinking or cutting down?

It helps to have other people in your life doing the same. You might recruit a friend, your partner to help or make some new friends who you don’t drink with. Try and make sure you have some hobbies and interests that are social but don’t involve drinking. 

Personally, I drink but have periods off (1-3 months at a time). When I first started cutting down and having periods off drinking I found it motivating to reflect on the benefits. I was saving money and had so much more time to do other things when I wasn’t halted or slowed down the next day (or multiple days as I get older!).  Most importantly I realised how good I felt in general and that my overall mood was much better.

The festive period can be an especially challenging time to cut down or stop drinking but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Set yourself clear goals that you find achievable, get supportive people in your life to support you (or at least, not deter you!) and remember to find sober festive things to do that you enjoy.

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