If you are among the thousands who accepted the Dry January challenge, the chances are you are counting down the last couple of days and looking forward to a glass of your favourite tipple. There’s no harm in that. After all, January can be a stressful month, with the post-holiday lethargy, the uninspiring weather and the seemingly endless period between pay days to contend with. A drink or two is known to have a relaxing and calming effect. But overdo it, and you could do yourself more harm than good, and in more ways than you might think.
Alcohol and neurotransmitters
Anyone who has ever over indulged in alcohol will be familiar with that feeling of dread on waking up with a sore head, a dry throat and only a hazy recollection of what they did or said the night before. But according to David Nutt, a leading professor of neuropsychopharmacology, there is more to the science behind “hanxienty” or “hangover anxiety” than a sinking feeling that you might have made a fool of yourself.
If the name sounds familiar that is because Professor Nutt hit the headlines 10 years ago for saying alcohol is more dangerous than ecstasy or LSD – an assertion that cost him his job as the UK government’s chief drug advisor. But he had a reason for making the claim.
He explains that alcohol target the Gaba receptor, which inhibits the chemical messages being sent by the brain. In other words, it causes fewer neurons to fire, and makes you feel relaxed. Keep drinking and the alcohol will then affect the production of glutamine, which, in simple terms, is the “anxiety transmitter.” So when you drink, all your worries seem to go away.
How your body reacts to alcohol
All might sound blissful so far from a stress-reduction perspective. But your body is a clever machine. It identifies these chemical imbalances and works to do something about them, reducing the Gaba while cranking up production of glutamine. As soon as you stop drinking, therefore, these neurotransmitters are out of kilter, and the body experiences a slump in Gaba and a spike in glutamine, a combination that can result in crippling anxiety and nervousness. Of course, this comes on top of the dehydration and hangover symptoms.
What should you do?
Professor Nutt lost his government role because of his sensationalist remarks. Of course, alcohol can be terribly dangerous and damaging if abused, but the same can be said for many things. The more you drink, the greater the chance of hanxiety symptoms manifesting, so the best advice is to avoid overdoing it.
You can also pre-empt any likely neurotransmitter imbalances by ensuring your serotonin levels are as they should be with a natural booster like the 5-HTP+ patch. In addition, a painkiller like ibuprofen can combat the physical symptoms of a hangover.
Enjoy a drink if that’s what you want to do – after the stresses of January, you deserve it. But take it easy and don’t do anything that will cause you regret tomorrow. Cheers!