“Hangxiety” is a hangover plus anxiety – and it’s real. Priory addiction expert at Roehampton Hospital explains the link between anxiety and alcohol
The feeling of being overwhelmed or anxious while recovering from excessive drinking is distressing, and can trigger panic attacks, say experts.
Priory consultant psychiatrist Dr Niall Campbell, a UK addiction expert based at Priory’s Roehampton Hospital in south-west London, says it is extremely common among patients he sees.
“After drinking alcohol, many people experience feelings of heightened anxiety. I see it all the time. They may also experience panic attacks for the first time. Intense anxiety and agitation are very common with hangovers. Some people will develop a panic disorder as a result or have recurrent panic attacks. It’s part of alcohol withdrawal syndrome – alcohol has a short half-life as you detox, and you may well experience increased blood pressure, dehydration, intense anxiety, tremors and nausea.”
Alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) is the name for the symptoms that occur when someone who drinks heavily suddenly stops, or significantly reduces, their alcohol intake.
The NHS defines binge drinking as ‘drinking heavily over a short space of time’ or drinking to get drunk. More than eight units of alcohol in a single session for males, or more than six units in a single session for females is the technical definition – equivalent to about four pints of normal strength beer for a man or three pints for a woman.
Over a week, it advises men and women not to regularly drink more than 14 units – a small glass of wine contains 1.5 units. A unit is about half a pint of normal strength beer or lager or cider, or a single small shot of spirits (25ml).
“Sleep deprivation caused by heavy drinking will also make you more anxious,” Dr Campbell says. “I see a lot of patients with hangxiety. Some people will try to ‘relieve’ the unpleasant symptoms of their drinking by drinking more, but this can lead to more panic attacks, even seizures.
“If it has got to a point where you are experiencing these symptoms, you need to be taking stock of your drinking habits and seriously considering why and how much you are drinking and cutting down or giving up, especially in the run-up to times like Christmas. You need to consider how you can deter yourself from future heavy drinking. This is absolutely a wake-up call to re-assess your drinking habits. As the Princess of Wales said recently, no one is immune to addiction, addiction is a serious mental health condition.”
Dr Campbell adds: “Without the need to go into the office regularly, or attend meetings in person, people prone to drinking heavily and regularly are finding more opportunities to continue this behaviour, and this increases the risk of hugely heightened anxiety. And for younger adults in particular, being cut off from an office, and maybe still living with parents, there is an enormous emotional strain – and we are seeing more depression and anxiety in the 20+ age group, which in many cases leads to unhealthy and addictive alcohol behaviours.
“It has not been easy for people to suddenly spend a lot of time at home, and the effect on personal relationships has been acute. Zoom and Teams are no substitute for face-to-face contact. Being in close vicinity with family many hours a day, especially in a small house with limited outdoor space, is a big adjustment – as is working isolated at home – and we have seen so-called “wine o’clock” starting earlier and earlier in the afternoon.”