Ask An Adult: Why Do I Get Drunk Guilt And How Do I Prevent It?
The Debrief: You're hanging, and your having a panic attack. We spoke to an expert about why, and how you can calm TF down
Ever woken up the next morning and felt like your ‘Oh fuck, what did I say/do last night?’ panic has gone to the extreme? My mate Liz basically suffers from full breakdowns after a night of drinking, complete with a racing pulse, heart palpitations and inability to leave the house.
It means she doesn’t really drink that much, because the consequences are just way too much to deal with considering we’re no longer at university and can’t spend a Wednesday in bed without getting fired. I mean, one Wednesday in bed won’t get you fired but if you drink mid-week regularly then... look, you get the idea.
To figure out why she freaks out and I’m pretty much OK (usually), I spoke to Dr Bob Patton, a lecturer in clinical psychology at Surrey University who is incredibly well versed in all things alcohol, to see what’s making this guilt happen and how we can prevent it. Breathe deep, friend. It’s going to be alright.
Alcohol tricks you into feeling like you’re anxious
While you’re obviously a bit panicky about the fact you consumed enough wine to fill a manhole last night, the alcohol itself will be making you feel that extra dose of anxiety. Why? Because, while in small doses it acts as a stimulant, it quickly becomes a depressant if consumed in large, manhole-esque, quantities.
‘Although anxiety is cured by alcohol in the short term – if someone’s anxious, they have a drink to calm themselves down – alcohol is one of the root causes of anxiety,’ says Dr Patton. ‘This can happen in a number of different ways, one of which is the fact that low doses of alcohol have a positive effect on serotonin production (the mood-enhancing chemical in the brain), and higher doses of alcohol leads to a poorer mood.’
So you’re at a disadvantage immediately.
Dehydration also tricks you into being anxious
The reason behind your hangover is dehydration, the symptoms of which actually trick your brain into panicking. No, really.
‘The physical symptoms of alcohol dehydration include the shakes, feeling dizzy, confusion, and all these symptoms feel like anxiety symptoms. You’ll start to feel anxious, because your body is acting anxious,’ Dr Patton explains. ‘The same is true with the heart – it beats irregularly, which can make you feel bad and even more panicky.’
On top of that, alcohol affects insulin levels in the blood, causing your blood sugar to drop, and a drop in blood sugar leads to – you guessed it – a low mood.
The more you care about what other people think of you, the more likely you are to get drunk anxiety
Considering you’ve pretty much got no chance at happiness from the get-go (read the above), if you’re the sort of person who freaks out when you let your guard down – is it any wonder you get drunk guilt more than anyone?
My mate is a fiercely private person, I talk about my flaws all over the internet, if I throw up on someone (this has never happened, thank God) I think I’d be able to deal with it. If she threw up on someone, I’d be genuinely worried she’d move to Bali forever. And change her name to Lez.
‘People are different and interpret the signals in different ways. If you like to be in control, then the thought of losing control is going to hit you very hard,’ says Dr Patton. ‘We all have personalities – alcohol just ramps everything up.’
Don’t drink caffeinated or sugary alcoholic drinks, for God’s sake
Jagerbombs are definitely out, and you can put down those WKDs while your at it – unless you want to suffer a triple whammy the next day. Because who wants to suffer mass dehydration alongside a sugar low and a caffeine crash? Worst thing ever.
‘Avoid super sweet or caffeinated mixes – alcohol and energy drinks, that sort of thing. Basically, the effect is compounded because you’ll get sugar, or caffeine, crash and a hangover. It makes matters a lot worse,’ warns Dr Patton. ‘While alcohol obviously lowers your inhibitions – because it affects the part of your brain that controls decision-making – try not to get into rounds, and drink water in between each alcoholic drink. That should definitely help you the next day.’
Make sure you relax the next day, as hard as it seems
Don’t be hard on yourself, man. Did you buy a one-way ticket to America and drunkenly kick President Obama in the balls and now you’re in your overdraft? No? You’re fine then.
‘If you do find yourself suffering, try relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, Pilates and deep breathing exercises,’ suggests Dr Patton. ‘This is all very good for reducing feelings of anxiety. Talking to someone who was there, and who can reassure you, will help too! Maybe look at the CCTV footage! But seriously, just really try to relax.’
Whatever brings your mood up, and gets you feeling zen, do it.
Cooked breakfast is perfect, according to Dr Patton, but mainly because it contains eggs. And eggs are, apparently, the best thing ever for hangover anxiety.
‘Go for a full English because it involves eggs, which contain an enzyme that breaks down the byproduct of alcohol in the stomach,’ he says. ‘The one thing I urge you to avoid is the hair of the dog, unless you want to end up alcohol dependent, and feeling a lot more anxious later on.’
No wine in the mornings then. But, to be honest, if you’re regularly knocking back Sauv Blanc in the AM then you might have an issue. Try calling Drink Line, on 03001231110 and godspeed to you. Although, if you’re partial to a Bloody Mary on a Sunday when you’re hanging (and panicked) then you’re probably fine. Just try yoga instead, maybe.
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