Navigating the Grey Area: Menopause, Anxiety, and Alcohol (& ADHD)
So it's Menopause awareness month, Sober October, ADHD awareness month AND world mental health day on the 10th October. So it seemed timely to explore the links between menopause and mental health and how anxiety in particular can drive our alcohol consumption at a time when we need to do everything we can to protect our mental health. And then to explore all this within the framework of ADHD as it is profoundly affected by changing hormone levels.
As a mental fitness coach, solution-focused therapist and hypnotherapist, I'm well aware of the complex interplay between our mental and emotional well-being. So I wanted to delve into a subject that might not be often discussed but is super-important, especially for women going through menopause: grey area drinking and its relationship with anxiety.
What is Grey Area Drinking?
'Grey area drinking' refers to a pattern of alcohol consumption that falls somewhere between moderate, social drinking and severe alcohol dependence. It's characterised by drinking to cope with stress, anxiety, or other emotional challenges without necessarily being dependent on alcohol in the traditional sense.
The Menopause Connection
Menopause is a natural phase in a woman's life that typically occurs in her late 40s or early 50s. During this time, hormonal changes can lead to a range of physical and emotional symptoms, including hot flashes, mood swings, and anxiety. Many women find themselves in a grey area when it comes to drinking during menopause. Alcohol may seem like a way to alleviate some of these symptoms temporarily.
The Anxiety Factor
Anxiety is a common companion during menopause. The fluctuating hormone levels can contribute to increased anxiety, and for some women, alcohol appears to provide temporary relief. However, this relief is often short-lived and can ultimately exacerbate anxiety in the long run.
The Vicious Cycle
Here's how it often plays out: A woman experiencing menopausal anxiety turns to alcohol to soothe her nerves. While it may offer a momentary respite, alcohol is a depressant that can worsen anxiety when its effects wear off. This can lead to a vicious cycle of increased anxiety and a growing reliance on alcohol as a coping mechanism.
As a coach, I play a pivotal role in helping individuals, particularly women in menopause, address grey area drinking and anxiety. Alcohol consumption, menopause and anxiety all affect cortisol levels which in turn disrupt sleep. And if sleep isn't good, then everything else isn't too.
So many women aren't aware of the effects of alcohol on mental health, especially during menopause. As our oestrogen levels decrease so cortisol (stress hormone) levels rise. So we might be tempted to reach for a drink in order to relax. However, while alcohol may initially make us feel relaxed, in fact it makes us produce more cortisol, sometimes for several days after drinking. So while it makes us momentarily feel better, alcohol actually increases anxiety.
If a client who is experiencing a lot of anxiety and is in the 40s hasn't seen the doctor about peri-menopause and menopause, I will always recommend they see a doctor to assess hormone levels etc. But there are other anxiety drivers like drinking that we overlook, as alcohol consumption is considered perfectly normal in our society.
Being honest with yourself
I help my clients see the habit for what it is. And then switch mindset from alcohol as the culturally accepted way to wind down, to exploring other ways to relax: exercise, time with friends, mindfulness, learning something new, hobbies, and so on.
Week by week, my clients set themselves small but significant goals to achieve. They don't have to be related to drinking and anxiety, it's more about feeling back in control, and making good choices. Usually this feeling of being back in control leads to more mindful choices when it comes to drinking but also other areas of life: eating, shopping, thinking etc.
Hypnosis, or non-sleep deep rest, or guided relaxation, can be a powerful tool to help reinforce goals, relax the sympathetic (flight/fright/freeze) nervous system, improve sleep, get clarity and focus. I give all my clients a self-hypnosis recording to listen to every day to help them get into a consistent habit of guided mindfulness.
Support and Accountability
Our work together offers my clients ongoing support and accountability to help them make positive changes in their lives.
A note about Menopause, Hormone Levels, and ADHD
For women with ADHD, the hormonal changes associated with menopause can introduce a unique set of challenges. ADHD affects attention, impulse control, and executive functions. Hormones, particularly oestrogen, play a crucial role in regulating neurotransmitters in the brain, which can impact ADHD symptoms. During menopause, as oestrogen levels decline, some women with ADHD may experience an exacerbation of their symptoms. These hormonal fluctuations can lead to increased forgetfulness, impulsivity, and emotional disregulation.
ADHD and Drinking
ADHD and alcohol can form a complicated relationship. People with ADHD may be more prone to impulsive behaviours, including impulsive drinking. They might turn to alcohol as a way to self-medicate, attempting to alleviate the restlessness, anxiety, or difficulties with focus that often accompany ADHD. However, this can lead to a cycle of reliance on alcohol to cope with ADHD-related challenges, which can, in turn, exacerbate the symptoms of both conditions.
I help clients to understand the complex interplay between ADHD, menopause, hormone levels, and drinking, and together we develop effective strategies for managing symptoms and creating change. If you feel overwhelmed with anxiety at the moment, and you are at an age where you are peri-menopausal or menopausal, do talk to your GP and explore the options. If you would like help relieving anxiety or anxiety symptoms, and/or are worried about drinking patterns please do get in touch.