The Hangover Nobody Talks About

More and more I am drinking less and less. When I became conscious of my alcohol consumption, I was a bit shocked to discover just how ubiquitous alcohol is. On Tuesday there was champagne at a work meetup. Wednesday was a sporting club event.  Thursday was wine with a friend. And then Friday rolled round and you know what that means.

I know Australia has a drinking culture but Australia really has a drinking culture. To decrease my consumption, I had to actively avoid alcohol. How hard is it to not have a vodka soda? Um, kind of hard. Everyone’s doing it and freaking FOMO. I would drive to events, to make it hard to drink too much, have plans scheduled for the morning to make a hangover truly inconvenient and order lemon lime bitters so I could still participate without partaking.

But this isn’t a procedural text on how to drink less. This is WHY I try to drink less.

Everyone knows alcohol gives you a headache the next day, can fuel violence and lust. But there are a lot of other reasons to not imbibe.

Emotional hangover

Alcohol is a depressant in that it “slows down the messages travelling between the brain and the body”. But it’s also flat-out depressing.

The main purpose of this piece is to address this. I am someone people typically describe as cheerful and optimistic. (Read my 15 Habits for Happiness). The day after a drinking binge, I become fragile.  So vulnerable to the words and actions of people around me, if someone uses the wrong tone with me, I might burst into tears. In fact, I spend hangover days constantly on the precipice of tears. To the point that I wish I could cry already, just to get it over with. Hangovers leave you raw.

If you are typically a balanced person, then this is unpleasant. But if you suffer from anxiety or depression, then the consequences of excessive drinking can be absolutely dreadful. This effect is so well known it’s colloquially referred to as “hangxiety”. As in “no, I cannot come out for brunch. My hangxiety is off the charts.” Alcohol can also neutralise your meds, among other risks - better not to mix the two.

Like with virtually every other mood-enhancing drug, what comes up must go down. This occurs in two ways: That boost of serotonin and dopamine on Friday night is a happy-hormone depletion come Saturday. Also your body enters compensation mode “which results in overactivity of the neurotransmitters that excite the brain and body, and under-activity of the neurotransmitters that help you relax.”

On your next Sunday of regret, pay attention to your mental state. Switching to water early in the night could be the key to a carefree week ahead.

Some studies:

As your body detoxes, it effects your central nervous system, making you an anxious jittery mess

You’re less well rested. Aside from the fact you were probably up later, alcohol also impacts the type of sleep you get. No rejuvenating REM sleep. Nuh uh. You can have a disrupted sleep cycle with your tequila.

Alcohol depletes minerals: “Vitamins B-1, B-3 and B-6, or thiamin, niacin and pyridoxine, are directly or indirectly involved in alcohol metabolism, and they are among the first nutrients to be depleted by excessive alcohol consumption.” Not enough people talk about how deficiencies can strongly affect your mood: “In addition to omega–3 fatty acids, vitamin B (e.g., folate) and magnesium deficiencies have been linked to depression.” I’m not bloody saying a Vitamin B tablet will cure your depression. But saying no to the shiraz is one way to mitigate against poor mental health.

Also, it’s not as simple as: Body detoxes. Back to normal on Monday. Heavy drinking for a long time SHRINKS your beautiful brain, which can have consequences for your mood, memory and motor skills.

Alcohol screws with your immunity

I spent the first six months of this year catching cold after flu after cold. (Yes, the actual flu. Not the same as a cold. Very bad.) Obviously, when you’re on a night out, you’re awake for longer than usual, not getting a solid eight. So my general lifestyle wasn’t exactly conducive to excellent health. But alcohol also wreaks havoc on your immune system. There are a lot of very comprehensive well-researched studies that show “alcohol disrupts immune pathways in complex and seemingly paradoxical ways…impair[ing] the body’s ability to defend against infection… and imped[ing] recovery from tissue injury.” But I don’t need all the studies (so many, I tell you) because I was a living, suffering example. It was particularly unfortunate that I work in community health. I was being constantly exposed to a slew of illnesses that my body had no chance of fending off. If you like being immune to office germs, lay off the grog.  

Skin

One of the side effects of drinking less is better skin. It first occurred to me that my slightly dull, broken out complexion could be due to alcohol when I read a blog post by Elyse Knowles about how she “fixed” her skin. I think the quality of your skin is attributable to a variety of factors including: hormones, environment, genetics, exercise and diet. But I did a little reading and found alcohol does have a pretty dramatic effect on skin in two major ways: 

1)    Alcohol dehydrates. This dehydration impacts your body’s regenerative cycle, leading to dull skin.

2)    Alcohol isn’t just a toxin - it’s a hepatotoxin. Fancy. Basically, it means alcohol stuffs up your liver functioning and “could impair the job of your liver in removing toxins from your body, including your skin.”

Better relationships

It might seem odd to list better relationships as a side effect of teetotalism but let me explain. A lot of excessive alcohol consumption has to do with our feelings about our place in the world, our connections with other people and the mask we wear. I drank more when I was in situations where I was less comfortable. When I’m chilling at my best friend’s* house, I never drink. I love her sober and I know she loves me, without any assistance from a bottle. Surrounded by lots of strangers or people I didn’t feel myself around, I’d knock back shots like water. Like really feral tasting water that makes you scrunch up your face. It made me feel more relaxed, less inhibited – all the usual nice alcohol-y effects. But it really just concealed a problem: I wasn’t hanging with my tribe. I don’t need chemical assistance when I’m with the right group of people.

How to cut back

Despite this compelling blog post, cutting back on your drinking mightn’t be so simple. Peer pressure takes lots of forms and I feel like one of the most seemingly innocuous is exposure. Everyone else is doing it so shouldn’t you? Worse: What if they all get slammed and you’re left not able to laugh for thirty minutes at the lemon that dropped on the floor.

Going against the grain takes character. Or does it?

Fitness sensation, Kayla Itsines, stopped drinking alcohol about eight years ago. When she stopped, she used to get a sparkling water with a lime in it. Rarely did anyone question her order. So if you’re wanting to improve your health and wellbeing, you could opt for a drink that looks like the real deal. Lie if you must. But maybe also don’t hang around people who won’t accept your health choices.

All this said, I haven’t quit drinking. Goodness no. Firstly, I don’t like extreme decisions. My vegetarianism lasted five days. And I wholeheartedly support the movement. But mainly, there are times when I do want to let loose. Altered mind states can be pretty enjoyable under the right circumstances.

Generally speaking, the amount of alcohol required to modify my feelings and behaviour is conducive to a lovely morning headache. So I won’t always pursue that boozy transformation. But sometimes I might.

The main thing I hope you take away from this post is that alcohol has a whole heap of effects that aren’t always spoken about. You should consider these when you go out or stay in. You get one body and mind*. Practice kindness on everyone, especially yourself.    

 

*It’s a tier

*I do not believe in Descartes’ dualism. Your mind is part of your body. It’s your brain.

Do you ever get hangxiety? How do you deal with hangovers? Comment below!

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