Updated: Mar 29
Menopause symptoms can often last five years or longer, and for those who experience severe or uncomfortable symptoms this can seem like a really long time. Perhaps the most well-known symptoms are hot flashes and night sweats, but as well as the physical symptoms, hormonal changes during menopause can lead to uncomfortable emotions too.
Some of these emotions might relate to the physical reminder that you are getting older, or the fact that your childbearing years are ending. You might feel anxiety about changes in your body or sex drive, or feel easily irritated and worry about the affect this has on your relationships. If this sounds familiar, please know these emotions are totally normal, and you can get support to help you cope.
Menopause can bring a lot of changes which can be difficult to cope with, and unfortunately some women turn to unhelpful coping strategies such as alcohol which can ultimately make things worse.
Why women might turn to alcohol during menopause
Women may turn to alcohol during menopause for a variety of reasons. Here are some possibilities:
Coping with stress
Menopause can be a stressful time for some women, as they navigate changes in their bodies and their lives. Alcohol may be used as a coping mechanism to help manage stress and anxiety.
Coping with depression and low self-esteem
Depression can be a symptoms of menopause, as well as feelings of low-self esteem. Some women turn to alcohol as a way of dealing with these feelings, however alcohol is a depressant and so can make feelings of depression worse. There is a strong association between feelings of low self-worth and substance abuse.
Menopause can cause sleep disturbances, and some women may turn to alcohol to help them fall asleep or stay asleep. However, while alcohol may help with falling asleep initially, it can disrupt sleep patterns and make it more difficult to achieve restful, restorative sleep.
Boredom or loneliness
Menopause can be a time of transition as women may experience changes in their relationships, careers, and other aspects of their lives. Alcohol may be used as a way to alleviate boredom or loneliness.
Some women may turn to alcohol as a way to self-medicate menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes or mood swings. However, as we discussed earlier, alcohol can actually worsen these symptoms over time.
It's important to note that turning to alcohol to cope with menopause symptoms is not a healthy or effective strategy. Alcohol can negatively affect both your physical and mental health and can ultimately make menopausal symptoms worse. Women who are experiencing menopausal symptoms and are struggling to cope should seek support from a suitable specialist to get advice that addresses their personal menopause symptoms and situation.
How alcohol affects menopause symptoms
There is evidence to suggest that alcohol consumption can exacerbate certain menopausal symptoms, particularly hot flashes and night sweats.
Alcohol is a vasodilator, meaning that it can cause blood vessels to expand and increase blood flow to the skin. This can trigger or worsen hot flashes and night sweats in women who are already experiencing these symptoms due to menopause.
Some women drink alcohol to help them fall asleep, however alcohol negatively affects the quality of your sleep , which can further exacerbate sleep disturbances and other menopausal symptoms.
Depression and anxiety
Alcohol is a depressant and is likely to increase the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Using alcohol to self-medicate can lead to an unhealthy spiral of poor mental health.
Alcohol can affect your general health and relationships
As well as impacting menopause symptoms, drinking alcohol can affect your general health and relationships. Dependence on alcohol to relieve your symptoms can, in the worst case, lead to alcoholism, leaving you physically and psychologically dependant on alcohol. Whilst this is an extreme, even slightly increasing your alcohol use could put strain on family life and relationships since alcohol causes us to act differently.
In addition, alcohol use is linked to increased risk of health conditions such as some cancers, heart disease, and liver disease to name just a few.
Effective coping strategies for menopause symptoms
Now the doom and gloom is out of the way, let’s focus on the positives. There are plenty of positive and effective coping strategies for dealing with menopause symptoms. Whilst there is no one-size-fits-all, it’s likely that a combination of strategies that suit your individual circumstances will have the best effect.
Possible strategies include:
Learning relaxation techniques – such as meditation, hypnotherapy, or gentle yoga routines
Using hormone replacement therapy - HRT can make a difference for people who are struggling with the symptoms of menopause.
Making changes to your diet and exercise habits
Self-referring for addiction support
Whilst moderate alcohol consumption is generally considered safe for most adults, women who are experiencing menopausal symptoms may benefit from limiting or avoiding alcohol to help manage symptoms. It's worth noting that alcohol is just one factor that can affect menopausal symptoms, and women should seek support to understand the best approach for managing symptoms based on their individual health history and needs.