Cosmopolitan (UK)

“Alcohol relaxes me, but makes my mental health spiral afterwards”

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Hangxiety, beer fear… whatever you want to call it, that feeling of toe-curling emotional nausea after a heavy night is unmistakab­le. Nick Davies*, a psychother­apist and hypnothera­pist, says, “When we drink, our prefrontal cortex [the part of our brain responsibl­e for executive decision-making] becomes suppressed and the child part of our character comes out to play, sadly without the guidance it needs.”

In a nutshell, alcohol encourages people to engage in more childlike behaviour: “Fun, silliness, laughter, tears, anger… it really is like being a toddler,” Davies adds. “The next day, our prefrontal cortex begins to assimilate the bits it can remember, and instils anxiety, often by exaggerati­ng what actually happened so we’re less likely to inhibit that part of our brain with alcohol again.” He says it’s important to challenge the negative self-talk with positive affirmatio­ns, like, “It probably wasn’t as bad as I think” and “I can always make amends by apologisin­g”.

Jarvis explains that dopamine (“the happy hormone”) is also at play when our mood dips the next day. “Alcohol is a psychoacti­ve substance, so it radically changes how we think and feel. Drinking it releases dopamine, which, in turn, can make us want to continue drinking to maintain that feeling.” However, she adds, the dopamine high will eventually be pushed aside by alcohol’s less pleasant effects: confusion, nausea and clumsiness – all of which can lead to higher levels of anxiety. If you’re concerned about alcohol and your mental health, take a break and use that time to examine how it makes you feel, looking for any patterns.

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