WARNING: This post mentions issues around substance abuse and mental health, and this might be triggering to some readers.
It’s the day after a big night out and everything feels a bit… off.
You’ve got that familiar persistent headache and general lack of energy, but maybe you’re also experiencing a creeping sense of anxiety, or perhaps you’re overcome with a sudden and persistent bout of low mood or depression.
Although this can feel like it’s all in your head, or symptomatic of your greater mental state, anxiety and depression are actually very normal side effects of alcohol withdrawal, particularly if you’ve had a few too many drinks.
Explaining the connection between alcohol, anxiety and depression, psychiatrist Dr Julia Lappin from the University of New South Wales, confirmed the link to Mamamia and says it’s important for people not to feel judged for this common reaction.
“Alcohol acts as a depressant on the brain and it affects certain transmitters,” she says.
“In particular it can lower levels of a neurotransmitter called serotonin, which helps to regulate your mood and this change in brain chemistry can lead to increased feelings of anxiety and low mood when you’re withdrawing from the affects of alcohol.”
Furthermore, Dr Lappin says although alcohol is used as a “great relaxer in social situations,” if you’re prone to social anxiety, there can be a “bouncing back” of those suppressed chemicals as the alcohol leaves your system and that can lead to even stronger feelings of anxiety and low mood.
What happens to your body after a year without alcohol? We explain the process from the day after and beyond.
How does alcohol affect anxiety?
Describing the relationship as a “chicken and egg” scenario, Dr Lappin notes the problematic behaviour of some people when managing their anxiety with alcohol.
“The anxiety sort of rebounds when you withdraw from alcohol, however problematic behaviour occurs when people start to drink more and more to help them manage,” she says.
“Your body then gets used to needing more alcohol and that’s how you can get into a cycle of developing a dependency.
It’s also important to note that this doesn’t just affect people with pre-existing conditions.
“Even for people who don’t have a predisposition to anxiety, if you drink a lot as you withdraw from alcohol you can start to feel symptoms of anxiety,” Dr Lappin explains.
“It’s really good for people to be aware of that link.
“Alcohol is not your friend and although you might think it may initially help, you’re probably going to suffer all the more the next day.”
How does alcohol affect depression?
When it comes to the affect of alcohol on anxiety and depression, Dr Lappin notes these condition are very commonly seen together and like anxiety, drinking can also be used as a way to temper feelings of low mood.