Why do I get Hangiexty?
To be blessed with hangxiety, first, you’ve got to be hungover. Most of us have been there. Your head is pounding, your mouth is drier than the Atacama. Light and sound bear down on you like sharpened knives. Maybe you want to throw up. Maybe you already have. Maybe you wonder how you got into bed, or onto the sofa, or lying beneath the bench at the bus stop. It doesn’t feel very good, does it?
Choose your poison
Most drinkers are familiar with hangovers. Why do we get them? On a very simple level, when you drink, your body thinks you’ve been poisoned—and… you have! Ethanol makes its journey from your stomach to your intestines, through your blood and into your liver. Your liver then gets to work breaking down ethanol into byproducts that can be easily eliminated from the body. Unfortunately, the main byproduct—acetaldehyde—is a poison and carcinogen, and whilst it’s also then broken down further, while it’s there, it makes you feel terrible: nauseated and flushed with a rapid heartbeat as a chaser.
However, there are more molecules in alcohol than just ethanol and some of them aren’t very friendly. These unhappy customers are known as congeners. They include acetones, histamines, and methanol. Methanol is possibly the worst of the bunch as it takes longer to break down than ethanol, and formaldehyde is created as a result. Yep. That’s right, you’ve got the substance we use to preserve bodies kicking around inside you when you drink. But wait! There’s more. This poison and carcinogen get broken down into something even worse: formic acid—the same stuff you’ll find in the stings of bees and ants.
Taken together, this cocktail of poisons will not make you feel great for the short time they’re in your system—and whilst the anaesthetizing effects of alcohol keep the pain at bay while you’re drunk, when that wears off you really start to feel it.
Hangxiety: it’s all in the Brain
Before your liver battles with the various toxic byproducts of alcohol, your brain is responding almost immediately. Whilst alcohol fiddles about with a whole host of neurotransmitters in your brain—you can learn more here—there are two neurotransmitters that influence hangxiety the most: GABA (or gamma-aminobutyric acid) and glutamate.
It’s helpful to understand GABA and glutamate as the 0’s and 1’s of the computer code that is your consciousness. As in binary code a 0 represents the “off” state, and 1 means “on.” GABA turns neurons off, by doing that it calms you down, glutamate turns neurons on, it excites. For your central nervous system to function properly—and at all—it needs these two neurotransmitters to be balanced. Under normal circumstances one influences the other and they exist in equilibrium.
Alcohol, GABA, and Glutamate
One of the first things that happens when you drink is relaxation, a lowering of anxiety. It’s why drinks are served on aeroplanes—to keep those anxious of flying calm. Reducing anxiety in social situations is probably the most common reason anyone drinks at all. Alcohol does this by modulating your GABA system. In ordinary—non-legless—
Bye bye alcohol, hello Hangxiety
When you’ve unsettled the balance between GABA and glutamate with alcohol your brain tries to correct things. It up-regulates the actions of glutamate, which, under the sedating effects of alcohol might not be such a problem, but these effects wear off about 4 hours after you stop drinking. So, you’re no longer drunk, your brain is fully “on” and you’re in fight or flight mode: glutamate is doing what it’s supposed to do in these situations, but the underlying reason for doing it has worn off. Hey presto! You have hangxiety. Combine this with the effects of having poisoned yourself, and the inflammatory response of your immune system to this, and you have a rather unpleasant cocktail.
How do you cure hangxiety?
So now you know why you get hangxiety, what can you do about it? There are a plethora of supposed hangover cures these days. But even when it comes to the tried and tested methods such as an Alka-Seltzer or just getting hydrated, the scientific jury is surprisingly still out on whether they’re effective. Ironically, one of the more reliable ways to curing a hangover is the most dangerous. The hair of the dog—or, just getting drunk again—can make you feel better, because sticking more ethanol into your body inures you to the pain of a hangover and stops your body from breaking down methanol into formaldehyde. But this is a temporary fix—the subsequent hangover will be even worse and it’s a great way to develop an addiction.
The cure for Hangxiety is mindful drinking
The only real way to avoid a hangover and hangxiety is to keep your blood alcohol content below 0.1%—and ideally lower than that. But achieving this will vary depending on your weight, sex, age, and the length of time you’ve been drinking.
There is no miracle cure here. Hangover and hangxiety follow getting drunk like night follows day. The way to avoid both is to moderate your drinking. Perhaps mix it up a bit. For every alcoholic drink, make your next one a no, low, or functional alcohol alternative—your body and brain will thank you.