Paula Zimbrean, MD, a psychiatrist and associate professor at the Yale School of Medicine, tells SELF that there are a handful of other factors that can influence addiction addiction. These include how your body metabolizes alcohol, whether other mood-altering substances or drugs are in your bloodstream, how much and how quickly you’ve been drinking (the faster you drink, the higher your blood alcohol level will rise quickly and the more active your GABA receptors are), and the quality of your sleep afterwards (which, if you’re like me after drinking, probably wasn’t so great).12
People with underlying mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety disorders, are more likely to experience anxiety after drinking, adds Dr. Schacht.13 “These issues can essentially shift your brain’s ‘set point’ and make it easier for alcohol to ‘switch’ the brain to anxiety,” he explains.
How to Prevent and Manage Anxiety After Drinking Alcohol
Pay attention to your drinking habits.
According to Dr. Schacht, the best thing to do is watch how much alcohol you drink. “The more you drink, the more your brain reacts to the dose of alcohol it receives,” he says. So a cocktail or two is much less likely to cause anxiety the next day than, say, five or six vodka sodas. Important: If you have an alcohol use disorder, stopping at one or two drinks may seem impossible. If you think you might have a drinking problem and want help, here’s SELF’s guide to dealing with substance use disorders.)
Identify your motivation to drink.
Dr. Schacht recommends checking with yourself Why you drink. Is it because you really spend time with your friends or family, or are you trying to relieve the trying feelings you are dealing with? Many people drink alcohol when they’re stressed, he says, but it can actually exacerbate their problems and lock them into a vicious cycle (e.g. you feel stressed, you pour yourself a drink, well that it can temporarily relieve, it makes you even worse the next day, and then you want to drink even more).14 If you want to drink to reduce your stress level, do another activity that might make you feel better in the moment. and the next day, says Dr. Schacht. Spend a sober night out with friends, go for a hike or walk, read a book, or host a movie or Netflix night.
Trust mindfulness tools.
If you’re in the depths of anxiety and need quick relief, Dr. Greenfield recommends working with meditation, grounding activities, calming yoga poses or stretches, or deep breathing exercises. “A lot of uncomfortable emotions that we have, when we try to push them away or avoid them, they only get worse,” says Dr. Greenfield. When you turn to your feelings, they often become less unpleasant.
Take care of your physical symptoms.
According to Dr. Schacht, treating the physical effects of alcohol can also help the mental effects. Drink water, eat a nutritious meal, take a cat nap, and try to get a good night’s sleep the next night. All of these self-care strategies can help your body (and your mood) recover from a hangover more quickly, Dr. Schacht says. Since exercise can stimulate and normalize the activity of neurotransmitters in the brain, including GABA, the culprit of hangovers, Dr. Schacht also recommends engaging in physical activity (perhaps a brisk walk or a 10 minute workout) – if your hangover can handle it.15
Know that your anxiety will pass.
Sometimes, no matter what I do, the only thing that eases my anxiety after drinking is waiting. At the very least, I find comfort in remembering that my feeling of shaking emotional ground, intense as it is, will dissipate soon enough. Anxiety tends to build and peak, then fall like a wave. As Dr. Greenfield says, “time is on your side.” Breathe, take care of yourself, and remember that addiction doesn’t last forever.
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