Alcohol and the menopause
Updated: Apr 6, 2020
For many women, menopause signals a period of significant change and upheaval. Although it’s a natural process that all women around the world will experience, it can undoubtedly be tough.
With low mood prevalent and your relationship with yourself undergoing seismic shifts, it can be tempting to turn to unhealthy habits to get through. Unfortunately, increasing your alcohol consumption to levels that regularly impact your life, your relationships, or your work can never be a healthy thing. Studies have shown that alcohol can also make menopause symptoms such as hot flushes and insomnia much worse for many women - so it’s a double whammy.
As we all age, we become more sensitive to the effects of alcohol on the body. This is because our cartilage and tendons lose water, which causes our bodies to hold less water. The more water there is, the better the body can dilute alcohol. Unfortunately, there is a big difference between how much a man and a woman can drink - women of all ages generally have a lower body mass (which again doesn’t have the same dilution power), and they also have less of the enzyme responsible for metabolising alcohol - alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH).
Males have highly active (i.e. fast) forms of ADH in their stomach and their liver. The presence of ADH in the stomach of men can reduce the absorption of alcohol by 30%! By contrast, women have almost no ADH in their stomach. Consequently, females absorb more alcohol into their bloodstream. Additionally, the ADH in the liver of females is much less active than the ADH in the male liver.
We’ll now have a look at how alcohol impacts your body and mind, and we’ve compiled a few suggestions that could help below.
Alcohol and hot flushes
It has been well established that alcohol (even in small amounts) can increase the severity and duration of Hot Flushes. You may experience increased night sweats if you have a few drinks before bed for example. This is because alcohol acts as a vasodilatador, meaning that it causes blood vessels to widen and relax. Thermoregulation (body temperature control) is impacted by alcohol’s influence on automatic mechanisms like sweating.
Alcohol and insomnia
Anyone who drinks alcohol from time to time knows that beer, wine, or spirits can sometimes leave you feeling drowsy. In fact, many people use alcohol to help them fall asleep. But while alcohol is a depressant and can help you fall asleep faster, it also disrupts your natural circadian rhythm and contributes to poor quality sleep later (not to mention waking up at 4am!)
Alcohol and mood
As we’ve just established, alcohol is a depressant (although paradoxically it is used in most celebratory situations such as weddings and birthdays). Alcohol does have a relaxing effect on the nervous system, but prolonged use has been proven to increase incidences of low mood and depression. Alcohol then becomes a downward spiral - you drink more to cheer up - but it actually depletes the levels of serotonin in your brain with each glass you drink. When your mood then drops, you drink more thinking it will have the same effect - but it rarely does.
If you are regularly experiencing the desire to drink more than usual to manage your mood and menopausal symptoms, there are many natural ways that you can manage this - and get back to being you:
Remember to HALT
Most people turn to a tipple when they are either hungry, angry, lonely, or tired (HALT). Within these circumstances, it’s best to be especially mindful of urges. Try having one of your favourite snacks (and have a treat!), try a non-alcoholic equivalent such as kombucha (a fermented drink that may also help settle tummy issues), or an elderflower cordial if you have a sweet tooth. If you are angry, try a power walk outside, journaling, or just stepping back for a moment. Everyone gets lonely from time to time; be sure to call a friend when you need, or join in with the many forums available online - such as our Facebook page here. If you’re tired, you may be tempted to have a glass or three of wine to help you get to sleep. As we saw earlier, alcohol actually disrupts your sleeping patterns and can often make insomnia worse. Try a guided meditation or self-hypnosis which has been proven to increase deep sleep by 80%.
Order a self-help book
Over the past few years, many women of all ages have been addressing their relationship with alcohol with humour and wit. At alina, we’ve read many of these books when looking at our own habits. Our favourites are available on Amazon, such as:
‘The Unexpected Joy Of Being Sober’ by Catherine Gray
‘This Naked Mind’ by Annie Grace
‘The Sober Diaries’ by Clare Pooley
These books are smart, well researched and provide practical support - they are also extremely relatable and very funny at times - all three are highly recommended by the team.
It’s a good idea to remember that you’re not alone, and that these women’s advice can be applied to many other areas of life too.
Hypnotherapy and mindfulness
Can both help with control around alcohol and priming the mind to make healthier choices that are better for you in the long-run (and certainly better for you tomorrow). As defined by Hypnotherapy Directory, “hypnotherapy is a form of complementary therapy that utilizes the power of positive suggestion to bring about subconscious changes to our thoughts, feelings and behaviour.” Essentially, this form of therapy does two things: it relaxes the conscious mind while allowing the subconscious mind to become more focused. You can pre-register with us for early access to our hypnosis and mindfulness sessions when we launch.
If you’d like to join a community of people addressing their relationship with alcohol in a non-judgemental way, you can try SMART meetings, of which there are many both offline and online. SMART does not follow a 12 step process, finding submission to a “higher power” and the inherent self-flagellation in making amends unhelpful for most people. There is a lot of information about their methods on their website here so you can have a private browse and see if their approach could be right for you.
If you are really struggling, then please do speak to your GP or the Samaritans on 116 123. Remember that you’re not alone; this process is incredibly tough, but you will get through it.