Stress, mood swings, hot flashes, and sleep issues can all be a part of the menopause transition, and it’s not uncommon for women to decompress with a glass of wine or a cocktail with friends during this life change. While historical data indicates men have higher rates of alcohol consumption, women are catching up. Between 2002 and 2013, female alcohol use disorder increased by 83 percent according to a 2017 study sponsored by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). High-risk drinking, which is defined as more than three drinks per day or seven in a week for women, rose by 58 percent during the same time period. Women aged 65 and older saw a 65 percent increase in alcohol consumption, and those aged 45-64, a 49 percent rise.
Taking a deeper dive into women going through the menopause transition, another study looked at women who were defined as excessive drinkers (30+ drinks a month) entering midlife compared to those who were not heavy alcohol consumers. This study found that excessive drinkers in early or late perimenopause or post-menopause were 3-5 times more likely to transition to non-excessive drinking than those who had not yet started the transition. Women who started the study as non-excessive drinkers were most likely to increase drinking to high levels during the early menopause or post-menopause phases. The study also found that women who were older at the onset of the menopause transition and for whom the transition took longer were less likely to transition to excessive consumption.
The concern around alcohol consumption at this life stage is that it can compound the already higher risk of certain health conditions, including heart disease, certain cancers, cognitive decline, and liver disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It can also interfere with certain medications. There’s potential as well that excess food consumption comes with excessive drinking.
Alcohol levels tend to rise in women more quickly than in men for two reasons. First women have lower levels of dehydrogenase enzyme, which breaks down alcohol in the body. Second, pound for pound, women have less water in their bodies than men, making them less able to dilute the alcohol. Women also lose water volume as they age, complicating this factor even more.
As you assess lifestyle habits during this life stage, reflecting on where you can make positive changes to rule menopause, consider how alcohol consumption fits in. Are you in the 30+ drinks a month group? Or a casual user? Or using alcohol to destress? Would you benefit from a hiatus from evening or weekend cocktails? Take stock and move forward in a direction that positions you to rule meno.
1. Grant, B.F.; Chou, S.P.; Saha, T.D.; Pickering, R.P.; Kerridge, B.T.; Ruan, W.J.; Huang, B.; Jung, J.; Zhang, H.; Fan, A.; Hasin, D.S. Prevalence of 12-month alcohol use, high-risk drinking, and DSM-IV alcohol use disorder in the United States, 2001-2002 to 2012-2013: Results from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. JAMA Psychiatry. Online August 9, 2017. PMID: 28793133
2. Peltier MR, Verplaetse TL, Roberts W, Moore K, Burke C, Marotta PL, Phillips S, Smith PH, McKee SA. Changes in excessive alcohol use among older women across the menopausal transition: a longitudinal analysis of the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation. Biol Sex Differ. 2020 Jul 14;11(1):37. doi: 10.1186/s13293-020-00314-7. PMID: 32665024; PMCID: PMC7362573.