The Morning After Blues: Here's What's Happening in Your Brain
ANALYSIS – Did you wake up with a hint of anxiety the day after New Year's Eve? After boozy celebrations, you may suffer from post-cooked angst, a cocktail of anxiety and hangovers that English speakers call “hangxiety.” (contraction of the words hangover for hangover and anxiety for anxiety).
I am a researcher in neuroscience and I am interested in the effects of alcohol and food on brain function. Here's how drinking alcohol can cause anxiety after the high.
Tequila with endorphins and dopamine
Alcoholic beverages – wine, beer or spirits – disturb the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain. The effect can be pleasant at the time, but much less the next day.
This pleasant effect is due to the fact that alcohol stimulates the production of endorphins, these natural opioids produced by the brain .
It also increases dopamine production, activating the brain's reward system – also known as the mesolimbic system. The production of dopamine reinforces the behaviors that led to this euphoria, so that little shot of tequila makes us want to have another one!
But alcohol doesn't just activate our reward system. It also disrupts the activity of neurotransmitters that control brain function. Brain imaging shows that alcohol decreases activity in the prefrontal cortex and temporal lobe, centers that govern decision-making, self-control, and memory.
Anxiety , malaise and stress
Alcohol increases the inhibitory activity of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) receptors. GABA receptors reduce the activities of neurons and alcohol exaggerates this effect. A high level of GABA promotes feelings of relaxation and calm, which make us more sociable and less stressed.
Consumed in large quantities, alcohol also blocks the glutamic system. Glutamate is the primary arousal neurotransmitter in the brain, and it plays an important role in forming memories and emotions.
The balance between GABA and glutamate is essential to allow our brain to function optimally. Alcohol upsets this balance. Alcohol is a depressant for the central nervous system, as it increases the inhibitory character of GABA while decreasing the excitatory character of glutamate.
When our brain perceives a high level of gamma acid -aminobutyric in conjunction with a low level of glutamate, it reacts quickly in order to compensate for this imbalance. It is this compensatory reaction, leading to a drop in GABA levels and an increase in glutamate levels, that causes the feeling of anxiety, discomfort and stress that occurs the next day.
Oh no…didn't I do that?
After several alcoholic beverages, glutamate transmission is slowed in the medial temporal lobe, the region of the brain that controls memory.< /p>
The next morning can reveal some shocking memories/Photo: Unsplash
Alcohol lapses are caused by the rapid rise in blood alcohol levels, a common result of being drunk, which is defined by the absorption of four alcoholic beverages for a woman, and five for a man, within two hours.
When you are sober, memories are formed in the brain after information has been passed from short-term memory to long-term memory. This process is called memory consolidation. This is how memories are retrieved and stored.
Alcohol interferes with this function, leading to a state of confusion and doubt the day after a binge. The confused memory of the previous evening (Isn't that true, did I really do that?) can cause strong anxiety.
Alcohol also has a huge impact on sleep quality, as it reduces the REM sleep phase, where dreams occur. This phase is essential for the recording of long-term memories. So a bad night's sleep following a drinking binge risks “fragmenting” memories.
The timid suffer more
Not everyone suffers from hangover anxiety, but some are more affected than others. According to a recent study, the intensity of the experience varies according to personality traits. Shy people are more anxious after a binge than less inhibited people.
How to avoid post-binge anxiety
The only way to make sure you don't have this experience is to not drink alcohol.
On the other hand, by limiting your alcohol consumption, you can reduce the effects of post-cooked anxiety. Space out drinks when drinking water, and you'll avoid the rapid rise in blood alcohol levels that affects your memory. Plus, you'll stay hydrated, saving you the headache the next day.
Text by Western University researcher Amy Reichelt.
This article is republished from  ;The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read the original article.