SPOILER ALERT! ~ When we are hungover, we have poor emotion regulation. ~ We tend to be more anxious, angry, irritable, and depressed ~ It is because we are less inclined to regulate our emotions since it takes too much effort.
Symptoms of alcohol hangover
Alcohol hangover occurs the day after an episode of heavy drinking and consists of physical symptoms as well as impaired higher-order executive functions, such as memory, attention and psycho-motor speed. In addition, there is evidence that mood and emotions are negatively influenced by alcohol hangover.
Particularly, increased anxiety and depression have been reported during a hangover, which suggests that negative affect is increased during those times. For example, hungover employees were more likely to report conflicts with co-workers and criticisms from supervisors than their non-hungover counterparts.
Poor emotion regulation during a hangover
It has been proposed that inefficient emotion regulation could explain the presence of increased negative emotions during alcohol hangover. Indeed, emotion regulation involves awareness of one’s emotions, ability to tolerate temporary emotional distress, and reappraisal or suppression of the negative emotion.
To do so, higher-order executive functions are recruited, which, however, include the same ones that are impaired during a hangover. Precisely, cognitive resources (e.g., attention, memory, etc…) needed for effortful cognitions are limited during alcohol hangover, which may in turn impair inhibitory control of one’s emotions and increase negative affect.
Results from the current study partially support the impaired emotion regulation hypothesis by reporting greater negative response to one’s emotional state, greater difficulties with emotional and behavioral responses, and decreased emotional clarity among hungover participants compared to non-hungover subjects. However, the authors did not find that increased severity of alcohol hangover also decreased emotion regulation capacity. In addition, they found that cognitive reappraisal was unaffected by alcohol hangover.
Alcohol hangover makes it hard to change one’s emotions
Taken together those results suggest that there was a high perception of difficulty with modulating emotions and behaviors among the hungover participants, which reflects a difficulty in engaging in more cognitively demanding regulation strategies. In other words, deliberately trying to change one’s emotions is more difficult when one is hungover, because it requires more efforts than one is willing/capable of making.
By contrast, the effectiveness of those emotion regulation functions remain intact. Thus, although we are still able to regulate our emotions when we are hungover (those functions remain intact ), we are less inclined to do so because it takes more effort than we can afford. Perhaps, the physical symptoms of alcohol hangover (e.g., headaches, fatigue, nausea, etc…) are cognitively taxing, leaving little energy for other cognitive tasks such as trying to regulation one’s emotion.
Gunn C, Fairchild G, Verster JC, Adams S. Does Alcohol Hangover Affect Emotion Regulation Capacity? Evidence From a Naturalistic Cross-Over Study Design. Alcohol Alcohol. 2021 Jun 29;56(4):425-432. doi: 10.1093/alcalc/agaa123. PMID: 33179037.