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The Reason You Feel Anxious After a Night of Drinking Could Be "Hangxiety"

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Photo: Katrina Era / Shutterstock

Ever felt guilty, stressed out, or overwhelmingly anxious while hungover? Well, there's a name for that—and it's called hangxiety

It's likely that everyone who's ever had a hangover has experienced hangxiety to some degree, but there's a particular group of people who are more susceptible to it—possibly to a debilitating level. 

New research published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences shows that very shy people are more likely to suffer from anxiety caused by drinking, compared with people who are more socially extroverted. 

Shyness, authors of the study noted, can be a symptom of social anxiety disorder (SAD), an intense anxiety or fear of being judged or rejected in a social situation. They also pointed out that often, people who experience SAD use alcohol to cope with their symptoms. This can lead to alcohol use disorder (AUD), the compulsive use of alcohol where a person loses control over their consumption. (Related: How Much Alcohol Can You Drink Before It Starts to Mess with Your Fitness?)

To carry out the study, researchers chose 97 volunteers—62 females and 35 males between 18 and 53 years old—with varying self-identified degrees of shyness. (None of these people, however, were diagnosed with any kind of anxiety disorder.) Forty-seven of these people were asked to remain sober while 50 were asked to drink like they typically would at a social event—this ended up being an average of six units for the drinking group. (One unit of alcohol is equal to around 8 ounces of 4 percent ABV beer.)

Researchers then measured everyone's individual level of shyness and whether they showed signs of AUD both before and after a night of drinking. Participants also self-reported their levels of hangxietythe amount of anxiousness they were feeling while being hungover. 

After comparing the data, they found that people who were shyer by nature felt their anxiety drop the most when they drank alcohol. The following day, however, the same group of people said their anxiety levels spiked more compared to the rest of the group. And they scored higher on a test used to diagnose AUD. (FYI, here's how to tell if you're suffering from temporary anxiety or an anxiety disorder.)

So what does this mean exactly? "We know that many people drink to ease anxiety felt in social situations. But this research suggests that this might have rebound consequences the next day, with more shy individuals more likely to experience this sometimes debilitating aspect of a hangover," the study's coauthor Celia Morgan said in a story from the University of Exeter.

And that hangxiety can be linked to someone's chances of developing an actual problem with alcohol. According to the authors, "This study suggests anxiety during hangovers is linked to AUD symptoms in highly shy individuals, providing a potential marker for increased AUD risk, which could inform prevention and treatment." 

The takeaway: Morgan encourages people who are shy to own their unique personality traits instead of trying to "fix" them through alcohol. "It's about accepting being shy or an introvert," she says. "This might help transition people away from heavy alcohol use. It's a positive trait. It's okay to be quiet."

At the end of the day, if you're using alcohol as a coping mechanism to "loosen up" in social situations, it's worth noting that it might not be the best idea for your mental health. Plus, considering the fact that AUD is on the rise among women, it's worth paying a little extra attention to your drinking habits, especially as we gear up for the alcohol-fueled holiday party season ahead.

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