The science behind ‘beer fear’—this is why we feel so anxious the morning after

It’s not just you, beer fear is real and it sucks

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(Image credit: Getty Images / Isadora Romero)

You can have the best night out with your friends, letting loose and sipping on cocktails and wine but the morning after always comes, and—unless you're one of the lucky ones—so does the hangover. No matter what hangover myths we believe, nothing stops the inevitable “beer fear”.

We’re all familiar with that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, and that rising sense of panic when you wake up from a night of drinking. Even when you know you didn’t fall out with your friends and you definitely didn’t text your ex, you still just can’t shake that anxious feeling.

Although they say hangovers get better with age, what's the deal with beer fear? Health practitioner for Pure Optical, Tammy Richards, explains what happens to our brain after drinking, and gives us some simple tips to combat it.

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(Image credit: Getty Images / Basak Gurbuz Derman)

What is Beer Fear?

Tammy says that beer fear is all to do with a chemical imbalance in our body and, sadly, we have no control over it.

She explains: “GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid) is the leading inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain and is often related to relaxation.” So when we drink alcohol, it binds to the GABA receptors making us feel relaxed and chilled out.

The amino acid glutamate also contributes to beer fear. Tammy says: “Glutamate is another chemical in the brain that plays an instrumental role in learning and memory. It also aids in feeling a sense of fear.” 

When we drink, our production of glutamate decreases, and our GABA increases. As a result, we feel more fearless, relaxed, and confident, hence why alcohol is often called “liquid confidence”.

So, when our bodies then start to break down the alcohol, and it leaves our system, our brains sense the chemical imbalance and try to counteract it. The brain starts producing more glutamate and decreases the amount of GABA—leading to our emotions basically going crazy the morning after.

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(Image credit: Getty Images / Boy_Anupong)

Tammy says: “A sudden increase in glutamate will inevitably spark fear and anxiety. The mechanism derives from when we were required to maintain a consistent survival mode.

“In addition, as glutamate is responsible for memory retention, its suppression can lead to memory loss and even a blackout over a short period of time.” This can result in your imagination running wild, trying to fill in the blanks of what happened, and as humans, we usually fear the worst.

Another charming side effect of drinking is that it increases your heart rate. The more you drink the higher your heart rate is, which in itself can make you feel panicky. Alcohol also dehydrates you and can lower your blood sugar, leading to headaches, fatigue, and achiness. This list really does advocate for the many benefits of not drinking at all.

Tips to prevent Beer Fear

Much like with hangovers, once the damage is done there’s no one foolproof cure for beer fear, but there are a few things you can do to lessen the effects.

  • Drink a glass of water between drinks to deter dehydration.
  • Monitor your units—know your limit and try not to drink more than your body can handle.
  • Eat meals high in nutrients the day of drinking and the day after.
Naomi Jamieson
Lifestyle News Writer

Naomi is a Lifestyle News Writer with the Women's Lifestyle team, where she covers everything from entertainment to fashion and beauty, as well as TikTok trends for Woman&Home, after previously writing for My Imperfect Life and GoodTo. Interestingly though, Naomi actually has a background in design, having studied illustration at Plymouth University but lept into the media world in 2020, after always having a passion for writing and earned her Gold Standard diploma in Journalism with the NCTJ.

Before working for Future Publishing’s Lifestyle News team, she worked in the Ad production team. Here she wrote and designed adverts on all sorts of things, which then went into print magazines across all genres. Now, when she isn’t writing articles on celebs, fashion trends, or the newest shows on Netflix, you can find her drinking copious cups of coffee, drawing and probably online shopping.