Although menopause is a natural process that every woman goes through, its symptoms can be distressing and disruptive. The stress of menopause can drive you to use alcohol and drugs. Sadly, alcohol and hormonal balance are indeed related. Learn more about what menopause entails and how you can deal with it healthily and safely.
What is Menopause?Menopause is the period in a woman’s life in which she goes through bodily changes that might cause shifts in mental and physical health. This stage usually occurs between ages 45 and 55, 51 being the average. Menopause is officially diagnosed after you’ve gone one year (12 months) without a menstrual period. It’s notably marked by hot flashes and mood swings.
Perimenopause“Perimenopause,” which normally happens a few years before menopause, can come during a woman’s 40s or even her 30s. During this stage, estrogen, the main female hormone, rises and falls. A woman might have menstrual cycles during which her ovaries don’t release an egg. If during your menstrual cycle you’re bleeding heavily or longer than seven days, you’ve most likely reached perimenopause. Both perimenopause and menopause are marked by a drop in levels of hormones like estrogen and progesterone. These are the two main hormones linked to development in females.
Symptoms of MenopauseThese changes in hormones result in numerous symptoms, including:
- Night sweats and hot flashes
- Weight issues
- Infrequent or irregular menstrual periods
- Decreased sex drive
- Vaginal dryness
Low Self-EsteemWhen a woman goes through perimenopause and menopause, she might end up feeling less attractive. This is due to the many changes happening in her body, including weight gain and hair loss.
NostalgiaAt this point in her life, a woman might be longing for the good old days of her youth. This can make her feel apathetic and sluggish, and it might also affect concentration. This can unfortunately make it difficult for her to effectively complete everyday tasks.
DepressionDuring perimenopause and menopause, women are two to four times more like to have depression. This could be because they’re no longer able to have children and they’re getting older.
Mood Swings and IrritabilityMood swings and irritability are common factors of perimenopause and menopause. These are generally caused by lower levels of estrogen in the body.
How Does Menopause Contribute to Addiction?The changes caused by perimenopause and menopause can cause women major discomfort and stress. As a result, they might feel the urge to take painkillers or drink to relieve this. These pains make women going through menopause more susceptible to substance abuse. Self-medication frequently leads to addiction. When a woman in menopause uses drugs or alcohol to relieve mental distress or insomnia, she’s putting herself at risk for developing substance abuse. In addition, for a woman who abused alcohol and drugs before she came into menopause, her usage might spike with these new mood swings and symptoms.
Estrogen is Linked to Substance AbuseStudies show that estrogen is connected to worsening substance abuse. One found that higher estrogen levels in women can make them more vulnerable to the effects of drugs. According to research from Mount Sinai, estrogen intensifies the brain’s reward pathway, creating more feelings of happiness and pleasure. Therefore, when a woman takes drugs while in the high-estrogen stage of her menstrual cycle, she’ll feel better than she would during another stage.
How is Progesterone Linked?Progesterone, the other main female hormone, regulates your menstrual cycle and also helps the body prepare for pregnancy. Studies have shown that it also lowers a woman’s urges to take drugs or drink. When progesterone levels fall, though, estrogen becomes the dominant female hormone, and this is linked to higher drug use. Part of menopause involves fluctuating hormonal levels. With the right treatment, you can manage these and live your life normally.
Side Effects of AddictionThe effects of menopause can be hard enough for a woman. Couple these with substance abuse, and you have a vicious cycle on your hands. When you think about alcohol and hormonal imbalance, you’re seeing how much substances affect your body. It’s no secret that addiction can take serious physical tolls on your body. It can also alter the brain to make you more compulsive. As an older woman, you need to be careful about what you do since you could harm yourself. Addiction also negatively affects how you perform at work and at home. When you abuse substances, you’re at a high risk of getting cardiovascular disease, hepatitis, cancer, stroke, and lung disease. An older woman might not be able to handle addiction the same way she did at a younger age. As we age, our bodies are less equipped to fight off infection and disease. A woman might also be less likely to seek help for addiction if she’s older. Sometimes it takes a major life event, such as job loss, for her to realize that she has a problem.
Inability to Function Without DrugsThe more you use drugs, the more dependent you become on them to function. Women can also develop a tolerance to the drugs they take, meaning they need more and more to achieve the same effect. A woman going through menopause might suffer from insomnia, and this might make her want to use sleeping pills or sedatives. If she uses these enough, she might become dependent on these medications just to fall asleep.
Worsening Menopausal SymptomsAlthough women may turn to substances to relieve their perimenopausal or menopausal symptoms, these can actually make symptoms worse. This can lead to serious issues, including dependency and tolerance. Using drugs can also make mental health symptoms worse.
Having a Past Addiction and MenopauseWomen who are in recovery from a previous addiction and going through menopause need to take caution. This is especially true for women with another existing mental health disorder like depression. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, about one-third of people with a mental illness also have a substance use disorder. Menopause could make a woman’s depression even worse, and she might try to relieve this with drugs or alcohol. Although there isn’t a direct link between worsening addiction and menopause, it’s important that you observe your habits at this age. You don’t want to put yourself in more danger than you have to.
How to Cope with Changes During MenopauseAlthough menopause can be frustrating, there are healthy ways for you to cope with it. You don’t have to turn to drugs and alcohol for comfort.
- Adjust your lifestyle: By eating healthy and exercising, you can reduce the effects of perimenopause and menopause.
- Build social networks: While you’re going through these phases of life, it will be good for you to stay close to friends and family. These relationships will nurture you with support and bring on more positive emotions. In time, you’ll be able to cope with the difficult symptoms of menopause.
- Steer clear of drugs and alcohol: Having an occasional drink is fine, but drinking to relieve insomnia, anxiety, or depression can make your menopausal symptoms worse. Only use prescriptions that are given to you by your doctor.
- Pursue creative hobbies: Creative activities can be healthy outlets for expressing your emotions. When you do things you love, your attention diverts from symptoms and perimenopause. It can also help you avoid negative thoughts and emotions.
- Talk to a therapist: No doubt this is a trying time for you. Talking with your therapist or mental health counselor can help you make sense of your feelings and your bodily changes at this time.
How to Deal with Severe MenopauseSome women have to deal with severe menopause, and this can require a bit more work and dedication. There are options you can take to make life easier. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) contains female hormones that replace the estrogen in your body. Although some research says HRT can potentially trigger breast cancer and other issues in women, one study showed that supplemental hormones don’t cause cancer or lead to death. Still, the North American Menopause Society recommends that women approach hormonal supplements with caution while working with their doctors. If you’re dealing with an addiction to alcohol and hormonal imbalance, you should consider attending substance abuse treatment.
Treatment for Addiction During Menopause at New DirectionsAs a facility that is run by and for women, New Directions understands the struggles menopause can bring. We also know firsthand that addiction can destroy lives and keep you from your potential. After our staff evaluates you and collects your medical history, they’ll determine your next steps. If you have a moderate to severe addiction, you’ll likely have to go through detox. During this process, medical professionals will wean you off your substance of choice. You might go through painful withdrawal symptoms, but our staff can relieve these when you’re under their supervision. Once you complete detox, you’ll participate in a residential or outpatient treatment program. Therapy is a large component of these programs. Some examples of the therapy we offer include:
- Individual therapy: Here, you and your therapist will discover what led to your addiction and how you can healthily deal with your menopause.
- Group therapy: You can meet with other women going through menopause and addiction. Sharing your experiences with others will benefit you in recovery.
- Family therapy: You and your family members can determine the cause of your addiction and help you deal with your menopause.