The racing mind. Feeling like you’re crawling out of your own skin. General restlessness and unease. That’s what tends to hit after a night of drinking. Anxiety after drinking is a common problem and one we tend to brush off until we’ve decided to stop or cut back. Why do we feel anxiety after drinking and how can we deal with it?
After a night of heavy drinking, it’s common to get severe anxiety the next day. In fact, it can even last days or even weeks past the night of heavy drinking. Is that anxiety still related to the drinking, and what’s causing it? Is it mental or chemical or what?
Chemical Causes for Anxiety After Drinking
There is a chemical component that leads to anxiety after drinking.
Alcohol takes between 72 and 240 hours to leave your body. It can take up to ten days to recover from the lows of drinking. A heavy drinker starts to regard these lows as normal. The lows are created when your brain releases a chemical (dynorphin) that counteracts the ‘pleasure’ from alcohol in an attempt to maintain homeostasis. Again, you know this phenomenon as tolerance. Dynorphin not only dampens the effect of alcohol it also turns down the natural pleasure you get from everyday activities. So as your body is working so hard to reestablish homeostasis, your chemical levels in the brain are off balance and thus you experience anxiety after drinking.
Mental Causes of Anxiety After Drinking
If you want to moderate it’s because you believe there is something beneficial in drinking – it brings you somewhere or does something for you. It takes you to something that you are looking forward to it.
This is one of the reasons that I, after about 4 months of sobriety, did the ultimate test. Got drunk in a room to see what it was really doing for me and if I was actually missing out on something I wanted to hang on to.
That experience was an eye-opener because the alcohol brought me no pleasure, no happiness. Only a return of all the horrible feelings I’d been happy to get rid of. That day I learned that you cannot mistake something good with the relief of something bad. Taking off my ski boots feels really good, but that’s only because they were tight, to begin with.
Anticipation Can Lead To Anxiety
When you are wanting a drink having that drink relieves the craving and desire. that by its nature feels good. The act of anticipation – simply looking forward to something creates expectation which is a huge part of actual pleasure. Once that is over if you have a rule about when you will drink again you have a period of time of sobriety to ‘get through’ before you get to do it again. That waiting period can be a huge source of anxiety after drinking.
Sadness and Drinking
You believe alcohol is doing something for you, you believe that it is necessary or pleasurable in some regard. The fact that it causes you displeasure the day after makes you hyper-aware of the fact that you need to do less of it – this can absolutely manifest in sadness and anxiety.
Aesop’s Fable about The Fox and The Grapes is a great example of how to overcome sadness and anxiety after drinking. The fox couldn’t reach the grapes so he decided they were sour grapes.
His perception allowed him to have peace with the reality.
Your House Is On Fire
Looking at it another way – your life has been this house – and alcohol was in the house. There are so many incredible memories in this house, from all sorts of events. You start to smell smoke, something isn’t quite right in the house. You are coughing, you are no longer having as much fun. This is not what you expected it to be. Ultimately, you realize the house is on fire. You have to escape. Standing and watching the house burn down, you are so grateful to be out of that house, you survived! You can rebuild. This is all great news and your primary reaction is gratitude but the truth is an era is over. You can’t go back into the house (start drinking) because you are now hyper-aware, you know the house is on fire, you know that it’s painful to be there but you mourn for the memories. For the past and even for the ignorance. That’s hard and brought very much into focus the day after drinking.
To learn more about the effects of alcohol on the brain start reading This Naked Mind!
Keep analyzing your feelings, your thoughts, and your emotions. Learn what your anxiety is truly about and work to reshape those expectations with the realities you now know. Anxiety after drinking can continue long after you are alcohol-free if you do not dispel the myths you have created. They will continue to surround the anticipation and perceived belief of the pleasure alcohol will bring.