‘I developed an alcohol addiction during the menopause and it nearly killed me’
‘For nearly six months, I was drinking three bottles of white wine a day. I probably spent hundreds each week on alcohol.’
Sue Jones started hiding her empties during the first lockdown.
The businesswoman would enjoy a glass of wine while making dinner, then two… then before she knew it a whole bottle had gone.
Trying to balance her about working in the pandemic alongside her fears for her parents health, meant it was a difficult time – and she found herself opening the rosé earlier each day.
On the weekend, by 11:30am it would be ‘five o’clock somewhere’, she remembers.
Sue has an addictive personality, and tells Metro that she ended up drinking moreto numb the new feelings of hormonal-induced anxiety, which were being exacerbated by the stress of lockdown.
She wasn’t an alcoholic; she was one of thousands of UK women who have been drinking unhealthily to manage the symptoms of the menopause.
According to figures out today, one in three women say they drink more since becoming perimenopausal or menopausal.
In the study, conducted by Newson Health Group and involving almost 1,200 midlife women, also revealed that one in eight regularly consume more alcohol than the recommended intake of 14 units a week to alleviate their menopause symptoms.
Sue, 52, was going beyond this amount.
‘I was a busy mum and I have been spinning plates all my life,’ she tells Metro.
‘Then all of a sudden about seven years ago, I woke up one morning and it was like somebody had switched me off and I fell flat. I couldn’t think clearly, I wasn’t sleeping. I was having hot sweats at night and I started to have really irrational thoughts.’
Sue says she became neurotic; worrying about her kids being out at night, too scared to get on a plane for a holiday and suddenly and inexplicably frightened of driving on the motorway.
Over the years she put on two and a half stone and Sue, who had never been a heavy drinker, started using alcohol to deaden the feelings of failure.
‘I wanted to feel numb,’ she admits. ‘I felt like if I drank, maybe I would get a good night’s sleep and not have the terrible anxiety. I thought it would knock me out – but it didn’t. It made things ten times worse.
‘I was turning to alcohol to help me relax, but it had the opposite effect. I would wake up the next day with such sadness; thinking why am I failing?’
By the time the pandemic hit, Sue was drinking up to a bottle of wine and a couple of gin and tonics each day.
‘I started sharing a bottle of wine with my husband but then, we’d start making those excuses. “We’ll open a red and add it to the spag bol” But you just end drinking it,’ she recalls.
Meanwhile Sue was desperately sad, insecure, anxious, and ‘drowning in brain fog’. She realised she needed drastic change when she started hiding empty bottles in the cupboard to conceal how much she was drinking from her husband. So, in 2021, she gave up alcohol.
She didn’t find out she was menopausal until, after another sweaty night of anxiety feelings of imposter syndrome, she googled her symptoms and she put two and two together.
‘I realised I was fully menopausal,’ she says. ‘I rang my mum who confirmed she had been through the same thing at 38 – but she’s never mentioned a thing before.’
Lindsey Beveridge tells Metro that she was also forced to quit after she almost drank herself to death when her menopause hit.
Born to a Scottish father and a South African mother, she was brought up in Johannesburg and moved to Manchester for work. She always drank – specifically wine – but saw her alcohol consumption spiral out of control once her menopause started, when she was around 47.
‘I had always had a somewhat problematic relationship with drinking, but it increased dramatically once I hit the perimenopause,’ she explains. ‘I’d reach for the bottle when I woke up then rush home from work to get another.
‘I thought I was self medicating but, really, I was making everything worse. It really was a physical addiction, I’d get into bed and drink there just to numb the emotions I was feeling.
‘For nearly six months, I was drinking three bottles of white wine a day. I probably spent hundreds each week on alcohol.’
She was having anxiety attacks and unable to drive as she was so nervous.
Lindsey worked at an event company when her alcohol addiction took hold. She eventually isolated herself as much as possible at home to avoid hiding her drinking habit from colleagues and friends.
But her daughter witnessed her mother’s transformation – and was the sole reason she managed to escape the addiction.
‘I was close to death,’ Lindsey admits. ‘My body was giving up on me. But then I heard an interview on Radio 5 Live, about a young girl who found her alcoholic mum dead. I feared the same thing would happen to my daughter. It was only then that I sought out recovery and began the healing process.’
Since she quit drinking, Lindsey reckons she’s saved around £48,000 which could have otherwise gone on wine. She now works as a nutritional specialist, helping men and women make lifestyle changes to recover from trauma.
Looking back, she still feels pain that she suffered alone. Lindsey, now 55, says: ‘At the time, I didn’t even know what the perimenopause was.
‘There was no awareness. I’d recently lost my mum and I think the grief and hormonal changes had combined into a sort of mental chaos. I didn’t know how to cope – or that I had a valid medical reason to go to the doctor for help.
‘There’s so much shame attached to both drinking and the menopause, even today. It’s easier to isolate yourself than get help – that needs to change.’
Menopause coach Lauren Chiren sees this problem with her clients frequently.
‘It is so normal to switch off each night (or earlier) with a glass of something,’ she tells Metro. ‘I coined it being a social alcoholic at one point when I clicked just how many women were doing this – caffeine to get going and alcohol to stop.
‘Except – it makes everything a lot worse. Our cortisol spikes, our insulin goes crazy and the rest of our hormones are impacted causing so many disruptions.’
During midlife, women often feel stressed and time poor and they are consumed by looking after everyone else, so it becomes very normal to reach for the bottle, Lauren adds.
‘I have spoken to clients who will think about whether they have a bottle of wine in the fridge on their way home from work, or if there is ice in the freezer for their G&T, rather than think about preparing a nutritious meal,’ she says. ‘It just becomes their normal. Sadly, it does little to help.
‘Alcohol for some menopausal women can trigger hot flashes, may increase the risks of various cancers, and can cause harmful interactions with common medications – the consequences are far-reaching. There is a perilous relationship between heavy drinking and the onset of obesity, coupled with the risk of osteopenia and osteoporosis – which can be a side effect of menopause – and may increase the chances of type 2 diabetes. But one of the most common concerns I see in clients is the toll on mental health.
‘Menopausal women are vulnerable to low mood and depressive feelings which can be exacerbated by any level of alcohol intake. There is a spike in suicide ideation and death by suicide around the age of menopause. As we delve into the complexities surrounding alcohol, women, and menopause, a proactive approach to health becomes pivotal.’
Several woman told the research that they drink to escape. Dr Louise Newson, GP, menopause specialist and founder of the balance menopause app, says: ‘It deeply upsets me to see that women are suffering unnecessarily, but sadly I’m not surprised by our survey findings. I speak to many of my women who are struggling with issues around alcohol and other addictions.’
Dr Judith Mohring, consultant psychiatrist, adds: ‘A lot of women find themselves depressed, anxious, and with variable symptoms that are often misdiagnosed as anything other than menopause. Coupled with the demands of mid-life, numerous women I see end up turning to alcohol as a way of coping.’
Candice Mason made a point of putting down her glass of wine when she discovered the alcohol was making her feel worse, when she went through early menopause at the age of 39.
‘I decided to cut alcohol out when I started getting anxiety attacks in my sleep and terrible sleep issues. It was horrible,’ says the 41-year-old from Tring, Hertfordshire. ‘The first time it happened I thought I was having a heart attack; I just couldn’t get my breath. It was distressing and I would just lie there trying to calm down.’
After a visit to her GP, Candice was told she was in early menopause. But before trying medical intervention, Candice did her homework and found that eating better and giving up alcohol could help her manage the symptoms.
Candice, founder of Mother Cuppa, adds: ‘I wasn’t a huge drinker, but I did enjoy half a bottle to a bottle of wine a night. So giving up made a huge difference. Within a week I was sleeping better and feeling better. It allowed me to get a hold on the anxiety. If I had a glass of wine tonight, I can guarantee I would be up at three in the morning.
‘Researching alcohol and what it can do to your body has also helped to educate me. The impact it has on sleep, anxiety and hormone balance. Yes – there are moment of feeling like you’re missing out or a craving after a busy day but I have to say, I feel so much better without alcohol that the swap has been pretty easy for me.’
Meanwhile, Sue has also turned her life around after discovering a personalised hormone replacement therapy treatment called the Bodyline bespoke M Plan. She now feels much better and no longer binges on carbs and alcohol.
And she is able to drink again, but this time healthily, enjoying a glass of fizz or two on a special occasion.
She adds: ‘Before, I was just surviving, and now I finally feel I’m thriving again.’
'The menopause made me stop drinking - not start'
While some women see their alcohol intake dramatically increase during the menopause – others have the opposite experience.
Vroni Holzmann works as a musician and photographer, doing solo work as a pianist and also playing in a Bavarian band.
The 52-year-old moved from a small town in Germany to Edinburgh in 1995. She says she was a bit ‘naughty’ and craved the nightlife and exciting drinking culture the Scottish capital boasted in the nineties.
During the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, she would frequently be out drinking to the wee hours before stumbling home to her flat in Tollcross.
But when the menopause hit, her hormones transformed her experience with alcohol. It was no longer a way to relax – but added a wave of stress to her life.
Vroni tells Metro: ‘I loved a drink while I was younger. I am from a place in Bavaria which was quite strict – but I was a bit naughty. When I moved to Edinburgh, drinking was a way to feel free and meet others.
‘It was my experience with alcohol that helped me finally realise I was going through the menopause years later.
‘My father had died after spending time in palliative care and, the day after, I sat down and had a couple of glasses of wine to numb the pain. Next thing I knew, I was struck down with a terrible migraine. I’d never had one before in my life, but here I was bed bound for four days.
‘I think it was the hormones changing the way my body responded to the alcohol. I felt so stressed whenever I drank and I still do now.
‘In work, I also found this wave of insecurity whenever I had to perform. I’ve cut back on drinking to try minimise that, but it doesn’t always work.
‘I tend to leave early after performances now, I can’t stay later than 11pm or drink too much.’
Vroni had little awareness of the impact the menopause would have, other than the token hot flushes she recalls her mother having.
She spoke with her friends and realised that they’d all encountered incredibly different pre-menopausal symptoms.
She created a small drawing, which took off on Twitter, to highlight how every woman’s menopause is different.
Vroni adds: ‘We need to start thinking of the menopause as a real health issue – it’s not just a ‘quick thing’ we should put up with.
‘It’s a hugely confusing picture when our hormones start messing with our body. And lots of women juggle those symptoms with caring for older parents, for children or spouses with health issues.
‘Lots of women don’t reach out for help as they think the menopause isn’t serious or they’re scared they’ll be seen as being too sensitive.
‘But we need to start reaching out for help and speaking about these things with each other to break the taboo the menopause still is.’
World Menopause Day is held each year on 18 October to raise awareness, break the stigma and highlight the support available for improving health and wellbeing for those experiencing menopause
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