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Menopause – a time to press ‘pause’ on alcohol?

To mark World Menopause Day (October 18), Leigh Williams – CADAS CEO – shares her experience of menopause and the link to alcohol, helping to raise awareness and highlight the support available…

My school friends and I are all just either side of 50 now and the topics of conversation have understandably gone from chatting about global adventures, work success and babies onto hot sweats, HRT patches and problems sleeping – still often over a glass (or two…ok then, four) of wine.

But is the booze doing us any good as we head into this stage of our lives?

It turns out 80% of women experience VSM (Vasomotor Symptoms) – basically night sweats and hot flashes. And for a third of us, we’ll get the symptoms severely.

Our hypothalamus is already out of whack due to our hormones (affecting our body temperature, appetite and sleep) and a wind-down glass of wine can raise our temperature enough to trigger flushing, which for some of us can lead to hideous hot flashes and sweating as we can’t easily regulate anymore.

“Studies have shown that more than one alcoholic drink per week, especially daily consumption, generally increases the risk of hot flashes, especially in postmenopausal women.”

There are lots of articles out there in Google-land linking alcohol to poor sleep. Infact, at CADAS (Cumbria Addictions: Advice and Solutions) where I work, we see a wide range of people using alcohol to unhealthy levels who also experience sleep issues. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Actually it’s a bit of both.

“Some people may find alcohol helps them get to sleep initially, but this is outweighed by the negative effect on sleep quality through the night.”

The handy Drinkaware website tells us that the reason for this sleep pattern disruption is about the quality of REM sleep and that even just a couple of drinks affect it. And I don’t know about you but some of my hangovers from 1 or 2 glasses of wine in my late 40s could give an all-night rave from my 20s a run for their money.

Now lets also mention our waistlines. It’s not just about being vain and wanting to fit into a glamorous outfit, or being thrifty and not wanting to buy a new set of size 16 jeans. The perfect storm has arrived regarding our age. Being children of the 70s and 80s, it meant our Mums fed us pop tarts and Findus crispy pancakes leaving (some of) us a hankering for highly palatable, ultra process foods that is now not doing us any favours in midlife. Add in hormonal highs and lows that affect how we store fat during peri/menopause means we have a bit of an uphill struggle if we want to maintain a healthy BMI heading into our 50s and 60s, which is a protective factor for a whole range of health issues it would be great for us to avoid.

Guess what happens when you add alcohol into the mix? It inhibits the prefrontal cortex – this is the bit of the brain that stops you doing and saying stupid things like “Yes I will have two billion cheese and crackers with this lovely red wine” or “I don’t think a burger will do me any harm on the way home seeing as I’m walking to the taxi rank”. And of course to add insult to injury, it’s also full of very empty calories – it doesn’t even have any nutritional value.

So whilst it seems incredibly unfair that when we’re feeling at our most stressed and out of sorts and would have usually fixed it with a night out with friends or bubbly in the bath – we’re coming to the conclusion that it may be better for us to lay off the booze, at least for a little while…

However, is it easier said than done?


The truth is, a lot of us may struggle to cut down or quit simply because it’s a habit rather than because we have a physical dependency or addiction. There are some amazing resources out there to help us build new, healthier habits that may help off set some of our alcohol use whilst we still try to manage it in moderation. I love James Clear’s Atomic Habits and have used it lots personally and also at work supporting people as part of our ‘Healthy Habit Hacking’ course.

A few top tips for cutting down –

– Replace alcoholic drinks with some of the new no/lo alternatives. Its not just Kaliber and Eisberg wine on offer anymore, there are some amazing choices out there to drink both at home and in town. Or make a mocktail

– If you replace one drink an evening it’s a great start

– Sparkling water with ice/slice and some peppercorns/star anise from the gin bar may mean you’re not pressured by the group to ‘have another one’

– Don’t get into a ‘kitty’. Rounds are notoriously dangerous for drinking too much, too quickly

– Meet friends for an activity rather than a drink

– Go out for a walk – even if you do end up at the pub, arriving for 9pm rather than 7pm will make a difference

– Are there any cafes that open later, into the evening?

– Meet your friends at a local ‘health’ group – maybe do a yoga or pilates class together

– Sign up to Dry January and see if you can quit for a few weeks

Remember to start small so that what you change is achievable and you build it into a habit before you stack something else on top of it.

Support available

For some though, the thought of Dry January might terrify them – and their relationship with alcohol may not be as healthy as they’d hoped. But all is not lost. There are organisations out there that provide face to face or digital support to coach people who may be psychologically dependent on their daily/weekly tipple. And good ones will also help assess if the problem is a little deeper rooted in terms of physical dependency. This is where we would send someone to their GP for support to cut down so that they could medically supervise any adverse withdrawal symptoms (like seizures) which can sometime occur. But if you would like some non-judgemental help to help you get things under control, browse our site and register for a call with a coach

And me?

For now my plan is to keep an eye on the amount of prosecco I drink, as I find I often drink a lot more of that than I would red wine. I’m definitely keeping away from alcohol during the week and on Sunday evenings (mainly due to a touch of Monday morning anxiety – I don’t need any extra alcohol-related stress there in terms of getting kids to school and me to work after avoiding Sunday night packed lunch making, form signing and other last minute issues that always crop up!)

Meeting friends for dog walks and bike rides works with the time I’ve got in the week so I’m going to try and maximise that opportunity to boost my exercise too. And if I have cheese and crackers, my master plan is to just make three and leave the rest of the packet in the kitchen! Do we need a better end than this?

I’ll let you know how I get on!

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