Studies have shown that women and men are affected disproportionately by alcohol consumption. For example, on average, women have a lower body water content, enabling alcohol to flow throughout the bloodstream in a higher concentration. Women, then, become intoxicated faster, although alcohol appears to be eliminated faster from a woman’s body than in a man’s body. Research also shows that women are more likely to develop liver disease in a shorter period, even when drinking less alcohol than men. 

Alcohol use disorders are also recorded to be higher in men, although that statistic is starting to narrow as the effects of alcohol consumption on women are increasingly being studied. Historically, women had been excluded from studies as the menstrual cycle was deemed unstable, a complex variable not well understood. As a result, empirical evidence on the associations between alcohol use and the menstrual cycle was virtually nonexistent. The deductive conclusions were drawn from its “instability”: the menstrual cycle is simply disruptive and, therefore, this disruption leads to drinking. Fortunately, in the 1990s, a mandate required women to be included in studies, allowing this field of research to develop so a better understanding of women’s unique challenges with alcohol could be assessed. 


Understanding Menstrual Cycles

There are two main phases of the menstrual cycle: the follicular or proliferative phase and the luteal or secretory phase. During these phases, the uterus is creating ideal conditions for the development of a fertile egg. However, if fertilization does not happen, women menstruate or bleed. Day one of the cycle starts with the onset of menstruation and ends with the first day of your next period, usually about 28 days. Estrogen and progesterone are the main regulating hormones involved and are responsible for causing undesirable period symptoms. When estrogen levels drop during menstruation, you may feel depressed, agitated and sensitive to emotional stimuli. 


The Cycle May Influence Alcohol Consumption

The complexity of the menstrual cycle is a crucial area of expanding research because it may contribute to behavioral changes in alcohol use. In a 2015 review of 13 studies that investigated how the menstrual cycle influences alcohol consumption, extremely variable results were revealed. Some studies indicated increased alcohol consumption during premenstrual and menstrual stages, while others found the complete opposite (decreased premenstrual alcohol consumption). Some saw no change at all. 

A more recent study conducted in 2020 by the Liverpool Centre for Alcohol Research at the University of Liverpool found that participants who had natural cycles demonstrated increased alcohol cravings during the follicular phase. On the other hand, women on birth control showed no difference in consumption throughout the cycle. In fact, these women had higher alcohol consumption than the other group; this suggests that female reproductive hormones may influence alcohol consumption.


Alcohol Affects Period Symptoms

Numerous studies demonstrate that the menstrual cycle is sensitive and complex. In general, drinking even moderate amounts of alcohol has been found to cause menstrual disturbances. This may be associated with infertility linked to changes in estrogen and temporary increases in testosterone levels. Irregular menstrual cycles, cessation of menses, absence of ovulation, infertility, and early menopause have all been observed in women with substance use disorders. Other health factors may additionally play an important role, however. 

Moreover, period symptoms such as premenstrual syndrome (PMS) may be negatively affected by alcohol use. For example, in a study examining the effect of alcohol intake on premenstrual syndrome (PMS), researchers found a moderate increase in associated risk. Heavy drinking resulted in a more significant increase in the risk of experiencing PMS. This study suggests that there may be a threshold below which alcohol consumption may not cause adverse symptoms. A different study examined the effects that characteristics such as weight, smoking and alcohol consumption may have on period cramps. Even though frequent alcohol consumption decreased one’s chances of experiencing cramps, women already in pain expressed increased severity and duration. 


Avoiding Alcohol During Menstruation

This information suggests that, overall, alcohol may not be the best drink of choice, especially during your period. As a diuretic, alcohol increases the rate at which fluids are dispelled from the body, meaning that you can become dehydrated if you do not drink enough water while consuming alcohol. Dehydration can exacerbate period cramps and cause light-headedness, something you may already be experiencing due to hormonal fluctuations.  


Women and men are impacted differently by alcohol consumption. Hormones like estrogen, progesterone and testosterone are responsible for some of the biological differences. Recent research suggests that alcohol use can not only exacerbate period symptoms, but it can affect your long-term physical health. If you or a woman you love is having trouble with drinking, consider Authentic Recovery Center. Our facility, located in West Los Angeles, offers special rehabilitation services that take into account a person’s individual needs. For more information on what ARC has to offer, call us today at (866) 786-1376.