Your question: Why am I anxious after drinking alcohol?

My reply:

Hi, I hope this message finds you well. My name is Cesar Guedez, a psychologist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy. 

For many people drinking is a social activity. You’re with a group of friends after work or after school, you go to a bar or restaurant and have a few drinks while you chat. That shouldn’t be a problem, right? But for some people, this activity can be a source of stress, as they feel physically and emotionally stressed after drinking alcohol even in small doses.

One study(1) found a link between alcohol consumption and anxiety symptoms. The research showed that 12% of the people surveyed experience intense anxiety episodes the morning after drinking alcohol, although the symptoms can also appear moments after the alcohol intake.

If the anxiety is related to the hangover period, it is called hangxiety. In addition to symptoms such as headache and lethargy commonly associated with hangovers, people may experience tachycardia, deep fear and an intense feeling of regret for drinking the night before.

This problem generates a lot of discomfort in people, who question whether they should stop drinking permanently to avoid the anxious feeling or if there is something they can do to stop feeling this way.

What are the symptoms of your drinking anxiety?

The symptoms of anxiety in general are physical and psychological, generating a dysregulation in the person that causes prolonged discomfort. When it comes to anxiety linked to alcohol consumption, the symptoms are specific to situations where alcohol is involved, such as a party or meeting, or the period after drinking alcohol:

  • Feeling of panic or intense fear.
  • Fear of losing control or dying.
  • Tachycardia, sweating and muscular tension.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Urge to vomit
  • Inability to control emotions; fear, anger, sadness and joy.

Why do you feel anxious before, during or after drinking?

There are several reasons for alcohol-related anxiety. In general, it is important to understand that when you drink, your perception of reality is limited and your brain is stimulated. Therefore, you are more likely to suffer from anxiety because you are not in clear control of your environment and are more likely to perceive threatening situations that you would not when sober(2). Some causes of drinking anxiety are:


It has been shown (3) that there is a genetic predisposition to suffer from drinking anxiety if there is a family history of alcoholism and drinking problems.

Sleep problems

Drinking anxiety can be caused by sleep problems such as insomnia. Drinking even small amounts of alcohol stimulates the brain and releases neurotransmitters that keep you in constant activity. This activity in turn triggers restlessness, nervousness and ultimately anxiety.

Anxious thoughts

Anxiety causes distressing and dysfunctional thoughts that for the most part are either exaggerated or not real. As for anxiety related to alcohol consumption, anxious thoughts may be related to the fear of losing control and not being able to regulate an adequate amount of alcohol consumption, as well as the fear that something bad may happen after consuming alcohol, such as a traffic accident.

How can you overcome your drinking anxiety?

You do not necessarily have to stop drinking alcohol permanently. However, if even with these techniques you feel that your situation remains the same or worsens, it is advisable to seek professional help to determine if your problem requires you to stop drinking completely and apply new strategies.

Examine your relationship with alcohol

Many people only drink alcohol as part of a social ritual. They don’t really enjoy doing it, but to “go along” with family and friends, they decide to drink. Other people have a deterministic and catastrophic idea about alcohol, thinking that the consumption of alcohol in any dose represents a danger and a disease. Still others minimize the negative effects that alcohol can have on daily life, consuming it in excessive amounts several times a week.

Whatever your case may be, you need to be honest about your relationship with alcohol. In many cases there is a family history that explains why you perceive and act towards alcohol in this way. This will allow you to understand that there are dysfunctional practices in your alcohol consumption that must be modified to reduce your anxiety related to it.

Paced Breathing

Paced Breathing is a technique that can help to activate stress reduction mechanisms in the body by promoting a harmonious state between your respiratory system and your heart. The technique consists of inhaling and exhaling in periods of 4 to 6 seconds, focusing your attention on a specific object, image or sound that brings you calm and comfort. It is extremely effective for when the overwhelming symptoms of your drinking anxiety appear.

In my experience…

The relationship between people and alcohol is complicated. It can be difficult enough to find a healthy drinking balance, and even then, it is possible to experience anxiety related to drinking. Anything that causes a problem in your life should make you question whether it is worth keeping in your life.

I believe that you have the ability to improve and heal these feelings of discomfort you are experiencing now. The fact that you are seeking professional help through this message proves it to me, and I applaud you for making that decision and being on track to improve your mental health and overall, your physical health.

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