This week, our guest writer Janet Hadley, Founder and Director of Choose Sunrise will be exploring how our relationship with alcohol underpins our mental health and shares with us some of her own journey to sobriety and the benefits she’s found of living an alcohol free life.

Janet Hadley, Founder and Director of Choose Sunrise

Have you ever suffered from hangxiety? It’s a great word that’s been coined to describe the harrowing combination of anxiety and a hangover that can write off the rest of your weekend after a heavy Friday night session. At over 2 years sober, the thought of going back to this makes me shudder, yet it was a regular occurrence that I lived with for decades.

How alcohol works

To understand the issue, we first need to understand a little bit about what alcohol really is and how it works. Ever noticed that alcohol is used to enhance or detract from a whole multitude of seemingly contradictory emotions? Feeling celebratory – have a drink! Feeling stressed – have a drink! Feeling sociable – have a drink! Feeling grief – have a drink! It seems that there is nothing this wonder drug cannot help with.

The reality is that alcohol is a depressant. This means that it literally inhibits nerve activity in the brain. However, your brain is not a static object. It’s incredibly complex, and it works hard to achieve a state of equilibrium known as homeostasis. Thus, if you add a depressant to your brain, guess what it does? It produces a stimulant. This stimulant is the effect that you may recognise as feeling excited, sociable, or ready to get on the dance floor. It’s not the alcohol at all, it’s what your brain does in response to the alcohol that you’re experiencing.

As you progress through an evening of drinking, you steadily add more depressant, and your brain steadily adds more stimulants.  There’s a whole load more neuroscience involved, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s stick with this one effect for now. The problem comes when you stop drinking. Depressants are processed by the body much more quickly than the stimulants, so the depressant effect wears off much more quickly than the stimulant effect. This leaves a surplus of hormones circulating around your body and brain that are basically designed to get you out of trouble if there’s a tiger coming after you.

Hence, hangxiety is created.

A stimulant

This surplus of stimulants is also responsible for the 3am wake up that you may also be familiar with if you’ve been drinking for a long time. When we first start drinking, the brain isn’t quite as good at producing and releasing the stimulants it needs to keep functioning, hence we get drunk quickly and sleep soundly. However, over time, the brain gets very good at recognising alcohol and works quickly to release stimulants, even before you’ve started drinking.

Ever had a flutter of excitement at the sound of a champagne cork popping? That’s your brain getting ready to be anesthetised and protecting you by releasing stimulants. This efficiency leads to greater production and release of greater amounts of stimulants, meaning you can drink more without feeling the nerve depressant effects (commonly known as feeling drunk) and are more likely to have levels of stimulants left over that keep you awake around 4-6 hours after you stop drinking.

Professional help

Before I go on, I need to flag that if you believe you may be physically dependent on alcohol it is very dangerous to stop suddenly. If you suspect this could be the case for you, be sure to see your GP as soon as you can to get help.

Otherwise, if you’re troubled by anxiety and you are a regular drinker, cutting out alcohol could be the missing piece of the wellbeing jigsaw. I know how terrifying that sounds, but it doesn’t have to be forever. At Choose Sunrise we guarantee that our members will achieve 101 consecutive alcohol-free days and they then have a choice as to whether to go back to drinking or not with absolutely no judgment whatsoever. (Spoiler alert – no one ever wants to)!

Anxiety- you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone

Personally, I didn’t actually realise I was anxious until the anxiety melted away. I had absolutely no idea whatsoever that alcohol was causing a low-level hum of anxiety that I’d basically learned to just live with. When it lifted, my horizons expanded, and I found I had a new sense of self-worth that I hadn’t felt since childhood. I really cannot recommend it enough.


Choose Sunrise

At Choose Sunrise, we believe that nobody should feel afraid to ask for help with alcohol use. We can help you to create drink safe workplace. We specialise in helping professionals to reach their full potential by escaping the office drinking culture and resetting their relationship with alcohol.


Did you know…

  • 20% of workers report drinking more than they want to because of pressure from work colleagues
  • 32% of employees attend work with a hangover every month
  • Alcohol is estimated to be the cause of between 3-5% of all workplace absence


Is it time for you to consider becoming an Alcohol Wise Employer?


Click here to find out more and join the waiting list.