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Menopause and Alcohol Abuse – Another Overlooked Element in Women’s Alcohol Treatment

Many Midlife Changes Contribute to Alcohol Abuse

For some women the onset of alcohol abuse coincides with the changes in hormone levels that signal the start of perimenopause – changes that we may be unaware of in the earliest stages. When this is combined with other stresses in our lives – job changes, health concerns, children leaving home – we can find ourselves abusing alcohol for the first time in our lives.

At this point, many of my women clients report that they start to get forgetful and experience “foggy thinking” and moodiness. These can be the first signs of menopause and, sometimes, the beginning of escalating alcohol consumption, as a means of easing various unfamiliar discomforts and a sense of unease.

Alcohol Abuse Can Trigger Premature Menopause

Normal menopause is a gradual process that starts between the ages of 45 and 55, though a number of conditions can lead to premature menopause. Some contributing factors include the following lifestyle choices:

1. Heavy Drinking (more than 1 glass of wine, 12 oz. of beer, or 1.5 oz of liquor daily);
2. Heavy smoking;
3. Poor nutrition;
4. Chronic stress to the body – including excessive athletic training;

Indeed, heavy alcohol consumption alone may hasten the onset of menopause by as much as five years!

Full menopause finds us with our estrogen production down by 75% – 90% and for lots of us, the usual menopausal symptoms – hot flashes, tiredness and difficulty sleeping – in full flower. Some also experience a drop in libido (sexual desire) which can be permanent.

Self-Medicating With Alcohol Compounds The Problems

Unfortunately, continued alcohol abuse at this stage of life, multiplies the problems. For example. alcohol use itself can trigger hot flashes and increase sleep disruptions, considerably increasing their frequency and intensity.

Additionally, links have also been found between the amount of alcohol women consume and a higher risk of cancer. In particular, alcohol increases the risk for the most common types of postmenopausal breast cancer, with the risk increasing exponentially to consumption (i.e. one daily serving of alcohol resulted in only a 7% increase of risk, but drinking three servings of alcohol per day resulted in as high as 51% increase in risk).

Alcohol also increases the amount of calcium excreted in the urine. If you abuse alcohol, you excrete more calcium than is healthy, which can cause a calcium deficiency and eventually lead to osteoporosis. And, of course, heavy drinking increases our risk of liver disease, falls, DUIs, and motor vehicle accidents.

Effective Help Takes All Possible Contributing Factors Into Account

Clearly, perimenopause, menopause and postmenopause are times of multiple risks for those of us who find we are drinking too much. With that in mind, if you are over 40, you should at least, consider hormonal shifts as a contributing factor in any change in your alcohol use. It should also be a consideraton if you become concerned about alcohol abuse and seek help from an alcohol treatment program. Look for a program, such as my own Non 12 Step Alcohol Treatment Program, that will address all of the possible factors contributing to your alcohol abuse – biological, psychological and social – not programs that use the outdated and debunked “disease model.”

By |2016-11-14T06:14:14+00:00May 11th, 2010|For Women|11 Comments


  1. Liz December 17, 2010 at 5:31 am

    I’m doing some research on the topic of “menopause and addiction” and I’m I was wondering who the “my” in “my own Non 12 Step Alcohol Treatment Program” is and what the sources of the information are. I also experienced a change in my drinking habits when I began perimenopause. I am also in a 12 step recovery program and have 3 years of sobriety.

    Thank you,

  2. Jeanette Shirbach April 11, 2011 at 11:15 pm

    Please send me information for this non-12 step recovery for women program. Please use discretion.
    Thank you,

  3. Iris Lefont November 3, 2011 at 2:49 pm

    I have been in perimenopuase for the last 3 yrs im 46 yrs old now, and i have been drinking more then 1 or 2 glasses of wine for the lsst yr almost everyday. I was a social drinker now I need my wine in order to deal with my day….please send me info on this subject…thank u so very much

  4. Dr. Mary Ellen Barnes & Dr. Ed Wilson November 3, 2011 at 3:31 pm

    There isn’t a lot of information on the subject. It was just something I noticed in my practice and comfirmed with physicians – that lot of women start having drinking problems in perimenopause or menopause, that didn’t have a problem before that. It is fact that alsohol goes to estogen receptors in the brain (which is why breast cancer risk goes up with drinking, too – lots of estrogen receptors in breast tissue).
    Mary Ellen

  5. Mm March 17, 2012 at 2:13 pm

    I am interested to learn more on this. I have been in peri menopause for 2 years and I’m 42. My alcohol consumption has increased a lot over the past two years.

  6. dc March 25, 2012 at 11:12 am

    I am also very interested int this subject. I am now starting full menopause and the alcohol consumption has increased a lot to where it has affected my relationship with my husband , I also had a gastric-bypass 7 yrs ago which does affect the absorbstion of the alcohol please send any information on this that you might have.

    thank you

  7. Kristine May 30, 2013 at 7:09 am

    I went through Menopause very early.. At 40. My alcohol consumption increased greatly until I ran into real problems. I wish there had been more information on the topics as I always thought there was a link between the two.

  8. maria January 14, 2014 at 7:49 am

    My alcohol intake was always high but rocketed during perimenopause which started at 43, five years ago. My partner abd I were splitting up and I could have lost access to the children due to where my head was at with depression. I used alcohol to cover up the terrible feelings ,mostly of anxiety. I have had lots of sopport from family,friends and professionals and have not drunk in a year. I am on HRT which is working and anti depressants. My life is still very difficult some days. Crying on and off recently but not drinking makes life easier than drinking. I think its a chicken and egg scenario and my doctor cannot even answer it. my advice is dont let it control you. I did and almost lost everything…..

  9. Tammy July 2, 2017 at 2:49 am

    Im 46 going through menopause and in early recovery. love sleep but the emotions are so real, I’ve been a alcoholic for 33 years and now these feelings am unsure how to deal with them. I get angry, Im setting boundaries, Im sad I wasted so much time. I can write a book but I just want peace happiness.

  10. CeeJayKay July 17, 2017 at 4:03 pm

    I recently started on the Sinclair Method to help with alcohol addiction. I had a hysterectomy at age 50 with ovaries intact, but apparently the shock to my system kicked menopause into full force. After seeing a GYN today for hormone replacement therapy, I started putting 2 and 2 together, and come up with menopause has only acerbated my alcohol addiction. Why do people never talk about this?

  11. Dr. Mary Ellen Barnes & Dr. Ed Wilson July 18, 2017 at 12:09 pm

    I have often asked myself the same question. I think it is appalling that so many women end up with alcohol problems that could have been prevented had they gotten appropriate HRT when they needed it. It makes me very angry. I do not have a good answer for you as to why this is the case.

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