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.”