This is a common question among clients - ‘why am I feeling particularly low or anxious the day after drinking alcohol?’ In order to answer this question, we need to delve into the biology of the brain.
When we think about hangovers, we often blame dehydration for negative effects on our mind/body. However, the truth is that drinking alcohol actively effects the chemical balance in our brains.
How does alcohol affect my brain?
1. Firstly, alcohol targets the Gaba (Gamma-aminobutyric Acid) receptors which sends chemical messages through the brain and central nervous system to inhibit the activity of nerve cells. The purpose of these receptors is to record excitement, by drinking alcohol it makes fewer neurons fire.
2. Secondly, alcohol begins to block Glutamate, which is the excitatory transmitter. Glutamate is required to record memories, so when it is blocked it provides blanks in your memory. This is why when you drink a lot of alcohol, you cannot recall fully. If you are prone to anxiety, you may begin to fill in blanks in your memory with ‘catastrophized memories’, which is often to referred to as ‘the fear’ that you have done something embarrassing or upset someone.
3. Thirdly, Alcohol dissipates serotonin and dopamine, which are the ‘happy’ chemicals in the brain. Therefore causing you to feel ‘low’ the next day.
The next day
The day after drinking alcohol, your brain recalls an imbalance in chemicals and addresses it the same as if you were to eat too many sweets and it releases insulin. After your body hasn’t received alcohol for 4 hours, it brings Gaba levels down and Glutamine back up, resulting in a feeling of dizziness and shaking. This is often why we wake up early the morning after drinking alcohol. To help balance chemicals the brain also releases Noradrenaline, which is the anxiety ‘fight or flight’ hormone. Meanwhile, serotonin levels (the happy chemical) are still depleted, making us feel low.
Thank you for reading,