How to Beat an Emotional Hangover

By Nathan A Thompson 01/24/13

People in early recovery may feel shame or worthlessness after socializing. The Fix asks those in the know how to respond.

All in the mind? Still hurts.
Hangover via Shutterstock

Headaches, exhaustion, feelings of worthlessness? All of us will experience an emotional or even physical fallout after an argument with someone close to us, say. But newly sober people are likely to experience symptoms like these after other kinds of social interactions, too. Psychologist and author Adele Ryan McDowell, PhD, acknowledges the danger emotional hangovers can present in early recovery: “For people struggling with addictions, socializing can cause an escalation of the I'm-not-good-enough scenario," she tells The Fix. "Acute and intense feelings like anger, embarrassment and shame can follow. You are left feeling as if you have been run over by a truck.”

Luke, a recovering alcoholic from Manchester, England, knows this feeling well: “I think that people who have relied on drugs or drink are more sensitive in early days of recovery and more prone to exhaustion,” he tells us. And another recovering alcoholic who doesn't want to be named suggests one possible reason for the phenomenon: “When I go to an event sober, I suppress my cravings, which makes me feel run-down the next day.” The ability to deal with these feelings is important for people in recovery, because shame and depression can lead to relapse. When an emotional hangover hits, common advice is to “be nice to yourself”—and that doesn’t mean ringing your dealer. Taking some “me” time to do an activity you enjoy can work wonders for your wellbeing. If your emotional hangover is the result of an argument, McDowell recommends that people in recovery should “see the situation another way, speak their truth, state their case, agree to disagree.” She continues that “like most experiences in life, emotional hangovers can be good teachers.” Perhaps they can help us learn to look after ourselves.

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Nathan A. Thompson is the president of the Overseas Press Club of Cambodia, where he has been based since 2013. He has reported for VICE News, the TelegraphGuardianSlateSalonand Christian Science Monitor both in Cambodia and across the region and currently works in editorial at He writes travel articles, essays and released his first poetry collection, I Take Nothing Strong Only Lightning in 2016. Follow Nathan on Twitter.