Menopause, Adrenals and Alcohol Abuse

My World Is Upside Down

The onset of menopause means the beginning of myriad changes within a woman's body - not to mention her mind and emotions. Changing hormone levels wreak havoc bringing along with them radical changes in day-to-day living. Sleeping becomes a challenge as night sweats (the nighttime version of hot flashes) disrupt sleep which then translates into moodiness and being irritable during the day. Suddenly the waistline is expanding and migraine headaches occur regularly. It's enough to drive a woman to drink.

Seeking Solace in Drink

In fact, that is exactly what happens to many women, numbers of whom find they are abusing alcohol for the first time in their lives. Research in the last decade has revealed that the beginning of alcohol abuse coincides with changes in hormone levels. Most women are not even aware that their hormone levels are changing in the early stages of menopause. When other life stresses such as job changes, health concerns, empty nest syndrome and possible marital challenges happen, women can turn to drinking as a means of coping. Alcoholism can also run in the family.

What Happens to the Adrenal Glands

When we are young, in our teens, 20s and 30s, the adrenal glands and ovaries produce a form of estrogen called estrodiol. As we enter our 40s and 50s, less estrogen is produced by the ovaries putting more pressure on the adrenals to handle the production load. Without adequate support of the ovaries, the adrenals struggle to keep up with estrogen production and as a result, estrogen levels drop then spike and drop again in an erratic fashion. This is about the time women begin to experience moodiness and the sense of having brain fog. The reduced levels of estrogen cause these experiences because the brain functions best when estrogen levels are steady. These also happen to be the first signs of menopause and sometimes the beginning of the use of alcohol as a coping mechanism for the unpleasant events that a woman experiences.

The most common symptoms of adrenal fatigue are insomnia, weight gain and depression and women experiencing these symptoms are usually in menopause. A test to determine adrenal function by measuring cortisol levels usually exposes adrenal stress or adrenal exhaustion. When there is impaired adrenal function, the effects can be profound: fatigue and weakness, suppression of the immune system, muscle and bone loss, moodiness or depression, hormonal imbalance, skin problems, autoimmune disorders and myriad other health issues.

Early Menopause Causes

Normal menopause occurs gradually, usually starting between the ages of 45 and 55. However, there are factors that can bring menopause earlier than usual, a condition called "premature menopause". Lifestyle choices can affect the timing of menopause with such habits as heavy smoking, poor nutrition, chronic body stress (which would include excessive athletic training), and heavy drinking. Heavy drinking is defined as more than one glass of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1.5 ounces of liquor daily. Actually, heavy alcohol consumption can push the onset of menopause up by five years.

The Problem with Drinking During Menopause

When full menopause is in process, estrogen levels have dropped by 75 to 95 percent and other symptoms commonly associated with menopause begin. Along with hot flashes, tiredness, and difficulty sleeping, there is often a significant drop in libido that can go on well past menopause.

The problem with drinking alcohol at this stage of life is that it can trigger hot flashes and insomnia, compounding the existing problems with these symptoms. Additionally, there has been a strong link between increased alcohol intake and post-menopausal breast cancer. The more we drink, the higher the risk. Drinking one serving of alcohol increases risk by 7 percent, but drinking more than three servings increases the risk by 51 percent!

Alcohol also causes calcium deficiency and eventually osteoporosis because it increases the amount of calcium excreted in the urine. Then there's liver failure, falls, motor vehicle accidents, bowel problems...the list goes on.

Peri-menopause, menopause, and post-menopause are definitely times of risk if a woman finds herself drinking too much. If there is a concern in this area, getting help is critical.

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