Throat dry? Head pounding? Filled with fear over what you might have done the night before?
Sounds like you’ve got a hangover.
With ‘Black Eye Friday’ – the last Friday night before Christmas – just gone, plenty of us are probably feeling the after effects this morning.
Among them are what’s been termed ‘hangxiety’ or ‘the beer fear’, that awful feeling of dread that makes you convinced you’ve done something terrible the night before.
But what causes that feeling?
Our colleagues at The Manchester Evening News spoke to Liz Burns, a lecturer of Mental Health Nursing at Salford University with a specialism in alcohol services. When it comes to the question of what booze does to us, she knows her stuff.
While you’re drinking, she says, the drink depresses the central nervous system, making us feel relaxed and confident, but clumsy. And as brain processes slow down, the memory can be impaired.
Liz explained the liver is the only way alcohol can be broken down and metabolised.
“It can break down one unit per hour, so if you’re drinking above this, your blood alcohol level increases.
“A glass of wine for example has 3.5 units”, said Liz.
“When blood alcohol levels increase with the more we drink, the more ‘switching off effect’ we experience.
“The more we drink, the faster our liver has to work to break down the alcohol and when it exceeds this rate, that is when we become intoxicated.
“But drinking so much in a single episode can be very dangerous.
“It can result in alcohol poisoning and in some instances, the body can become unconsious.”
But if you survive that, there are plenty of fun symptoms to encounter the next morning – including the dreaded ‘hangxiety’.
Why do we get the ‘beer fear’?
Liz said: “Feeling anxious the next day is down to the interaction of chemical compound glutamate.
“We may feel fearful because we can’t remember everything that happened the night before; it’s not at the forefront of the mind.
“We may be able to piece together moments, and memories can sometimes come back to us when we’re stimulated by something.”
So it’s the combination of what the hangover is doing to your mood, plus the fact that you may have some memory loss. Oh, and the knowledge that alcohol-lowered inhibitions could genuinely have caused you to do something you might regret.
Drink Aware, an independent alcohol advice charity, said that after drinking large quantities of alcohol, the brain can stop recording into the ‘memory store’.
An explainer on their website says: “That’s why you can wake up the next day with a ‘blank’ about what you said or did and even where you were.
“This short-term memory failure or ‘black out’ doesn’t mean that brain cells have been damaged, but frequent heavy sessions can damage the brain because of alcohol’s effect on brain chemistry and processes.”
Liz added: “Alcohol makes it also impossible to have a deep sleep as it disrupts it, which isn’t good for mental wellbeing.
“However someone may think they slept because they had their eyes shut, but the liver is working overnight to break down the alcohol so it’s not a restful sleep and affects the quality.
“It’s neither deep and makes you out of sorts.”
She said: “In the longer term, mood problems may occur as people might drink to feel better – but it’s a vicious cycle.
“Feelings of anxiety may initially feel better with drink.
“Others may have a ‘night cap’ to send them off to sleep, but it’ll actually cause disruption and they’ll be awake earlier.”
Why do we crave junk food on a hangover?
“The day after drinking, the body will turn back on and try to re-balance after being switched off”, said Liz.
She continued: “When you drink alcohol, because it is so high in sugar, when you stop, the next morning, your blood sugar levels are likely to have dropped to re-balance the body.
“Along with being dehydrated, the body craves carbohydrates, which is why some may want junk food to re-align.
“The body is trying to compensate.”
How can I cure a hangover?
This probably isn’t what you want to hear right now, but prevention is always the best cure – if you have overdone it, you’re likely to feel bad for a while afterwards.
Liz’s advice is low-risk drinking over binge-drinking. You can achieve this by sticking to the limit of 14 units a week, to be spread out across the seven days – you shouldn’t be drinking your week’s worth of booze in one night.
But, if you are suffering this morning and want to feel a bit better, here’s what some scientists claim is the ultimate hangover cure , in the form of a tasty breakfast drink which restores some of the enzymes hit by alcohol.
Might I have a problem?
The odd hangover now and then isn’t unsual.
But depending on your symptoms, it might be the case that you’re developing alcohol dependency.
“Extra caution is needed if you have developed an alcohol dependency – which includes feelings of anxiety and other symptoms as withdrawals, such as having a mild tremor or shake, or find yourself sweating”, said Liz.
“Some consumers can have a psychological dependency, where they think about alcohol and feel better after a drink.
“If you’re drinking every other day, with only so many hours without, withdrawal affects can create a complex rebound excitation; to the extent of seizures and fits. And if severe, these can be life threatening.”
Liz added: “What’s worse is the more you drink, the higher your tolerance will develop.”
If you think you may have an alcohol dependency, then you can speak to a local alcohol service who can check your dependency and help you from there.
Advice and information can also be found on the NHS website here , which gives contact details of related charities.
You can also receive a personalised plan by answering five questions with the Every Mind Matters NHS campaign.