'For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction,' so said renowned physicist Isaac Newton. Given that he spent a sizeable portion of his adult life nestling under fruit trees allowing their plump bounty to thunder down onto his unprotected head, it is reasonable to assume that he suffered severe concussion and mental degradation as a result of this over the course of his life. However, I have it on good authority from someone, whose credentials as a physicist are impressive enough on their own terms (they even claim to have watched the majority of Brian Cox's videos on YouTube) that this formula may actually have been said during one of his few lucid moments.
Well, never is this old formula more true than when discussing drinking. For every drink consumed, for each extra hour you decide to stumble arhythmically around a dancefloor instead of cutting your losses and seeking solace in the comforting meaty embrace of a kebab, an equally catastrophic and unpleasant toll will be exacted on your well-being the following morning. With each extra discounted continental lager on a drinks deal consumed, so to will it feel that an extra jackhammer has been added into the maelstrom of throbbing agony that inhabits your skull the following morning. I am unsure as to whether it is that Isaac Newton was talking about when he came up with his theorem, but without wishing to investigate the matter further, I am going to assume so.
Aside from the cataclysmic sense of physical degradation that comes part and parcel with every hangover, there grows, with grim inevitability as you age, an added edge to the experience. A keen and inescapable sense of profound existential dread, by your early twenties, your nascent dabbings of 'fear' with a hangover have morphed into full blown, medically certifiable 'hangxiety'. From this age on, every morning when your sleep-encrusted eyes, eventually prise themselves apart you are awash with a sense of dread so profound it seems to resonate through your very bones.
"What did I say to that bouncer?"
"How many drinks did I kick over when I was line-dancing on that table?"
"Will the DSPCA be notified about the fact that I frisbeed some 20 chicken nuggets at a swan?"*
While this is an unavoidable facet of life after a certain age, and one with which we must all confront, a team of researchers from Imperial College, London have sought to spell out how this harrowing interplay between alcohol consumption and stomach-churning anxiety.
David Nutt, ICL's professor of neuropsychopharmacology, has endeavoured to hammer home just how damaging the irresponsible consumption of alcohol can be. Indeed, in 2009 he was fired as the UK's chief drug's advisor for saying that alcohol was more dangerous than ecstasy and LSD. Speaking to The Guardian he describes the cause of post-drinking anxiety.
He explains that when people drink, the alcohol inhibits two important neuro-receptors and transmitters, Gaba (gamma-aminobutyric acid) and glutamate. When people have had more than a few drinks these transmitters and receptors are disrupted which leads to a significant reduction in a person's brain chatter and their general feeling of anxiety. However, while the alcohol provides you with a temporary reprieve from feelings of anxiety that are engendered by these neurochemicals, your body has taken note of this balance and starts to produce more glutamate and reduce the level of Gaba, to try balance these functions out. Naturally, once the alcohol starts to withdraw from your system, this will cause an exaggerated imbalance, leading to massively increased levels of anxiety.
According to Nutt, after a night of heavy drinking it can take a day or two for the brain to retain its chemical equilibrium. If you drink consistently for a long period of time however then, it could potentially take weeks or even months for this balance to be redressed.
However, this is not to say that everyone suffers to the same extent, or even at all from this affliction. A study published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences revealed that people who were more shy were more likely to suffer from Hangxiety the following morning.
Unfortunately for all involved, it seems there is actually little you can do to avoid this cursed state of affairs. Other than drinking less there isn't really anything you can do to mitigate the effects of hangxiety. The yawning chasm of dread is here to stay.
*The fuel for your hangxiety may vary.