I was never a blackout drunk. I was simply drunk more often than not. Alcohol had become an emotional crutch as my life careened in a direction I didn’t like. I’m a woman who likes to be in control, you see, so when it seemed that things hadn’t turned out as planned, I struggled to go with the flow. Cue the drinking.
My daily intake of wine fast became my reason not to excel, or course correct, or work with the opportunities life was throwing at me. Until I put down the glass.
Does Alcohol Affect Your Periods?
I knew that my drinking had entered the gray area, yet I’d never really considered how alcohol changes the menstrual cycle. After years of living with irregular periods, and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), my cycle had finally fallen into a respectable rhythm, fluctuating by a week at most.
This was fine by me until I discovered that heavy alcohol consumption could bring on early menopause. So I delved deeper, looking for further statistics to support my decision to dry out. I knew that alcohol was detrimental to my mental and emotional health—it had become a barrier between where I was and where I wanted to be—and soon I understood it as a feminist issue, too.
I therefore took sobriety as an invitation to step into myself (and my body) in a way I’d never done before. And it’s working. Just four months in and I’m flowing more, controlling less. Plus I’m closing in on 28 days with every period.
Can Alcohol Cause Hormonal Imbalance?
Research into the impact of alcohol on our periods seems to be inconclusive. It all depends on how much you drink, how often, and your general reproductive health. One idea that comes up time and again, however, is how alcohol interrupts the hormones needed to coordinate the menstrual cycle.
Excessive consumption can impact levels of estrogen, testosterone and luteinizing hormone. Alcohol also contains histamine, which stimulates the production of estrogen, too much of which messes with ovulation.
Ideally you need a healthy liver to break down these excess hormones, but if your liver is under duress after a drinking session, you may have a problem. As it tackles toxins, inflammation can arise in the body—something I know all too well. I’ve lived with sebhorreic dermatitis and arthritis (both are inflammatory disorders) for years. In my drinking days, they would flare up for nearly two weeks prior to my period. All I get now is a few arthritic twinges just a few days before I bleed. My skin, however, looks better than ever.
Plus, if your liver is stressed, your whole body is stressed. It takes time to recover from intoxication, and the process can cause a spike in cortisol. This sends a signal to the brain to stop producing estrogen and progesterone, since menstruation is deemed unnecessary when the body is in “fight or flight” mode.
Alcohol Leaves a Bitter Taste
Booze calms us down, but since it’s a depressant, it can drag us down further than we’d like. My hangovers became a shadow that followed me around, messing with my head as well as my hormones. Naturally, another drink took the edge off. So the source of my stress became the same thing I used to alleviate it.
Stress messes with the menstrual cycle, but it doesn’t have to be textbook tearing-your-hair-out stuff. We can experience it in much subtler ways. Even mild anxiety caused by a hangover can send us in search of the next sugar high.
We may get the buzz from the first glass, but the spike in glucose is short-lived. It’s quickly followed by an increase in insulin, as the body tries to level you out. Over time, high insulin levels can cause the ovaries to produce more testosterone, which could lead to insulin resistance, and (worst case) PCOS.
Should You Stop Drinking Too?
All of this depends on how much you drink, which depends on your mood, which depends on where you are in your cycle. No study, no matter how in-depth, can dissect a woman’s mind-body relationship. While we have a mental and emotional response to our menstrual cycle, our bodies also react to our state of mind. And whatever happens in between—drinking, for example—will interfere.
This, in turn, changes the ways we move, eat, sleep, and bleed. Everything we do, however, should be a choice, and that includes drinking. I know the decision to stop was one of the best I’ve made, but sometimes it can feel like the worst when we live in such a drink-pushy society. Then I remember that being subversive is the most powerful thing a woman can do, so I order a club soda and raise a toast to my ovaries.