Menopause Can Fuel Addiction: This Is Why
Addiction can touch all walks of life. Unfortunately, many women of menopausal age may turn to drugs or alcohol to cope.
Menopause is an inevitable stage in a woman’s life that brings about an array of physiological changes that are responsible for significant alterations in mental and physical health. Menopause causes levels of estrogen and progesterone hormones to drop, resulting in a variety of changes that many women dread. With the multitude of significant shifts that women experience during these stages of life, it is not uncommon for some women to turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with physical changes, emotional shifts, and pain that is likely to occur during these times. Unfortunately, some women fall victim to addiction during menopause.
Changes in hormone levels greatly affect the body during menopause. The physical effects that are common include insomnia, hot flashes, fatigue, headaches, weight problems, and worsening premenstrual syndrome symptoms. All of these factors can be difficult to deal with, and can last for several years while the body is adjusting to its natural hormonal changes.
The physical distress that occurs during menopause has the ability to trigger a substance abuse problem. If a woman finds that a certain substance can help her fall asleep, deal with weight gain, give her more energy, or help her deal with headaches, there is a chance that she may begin abusing the substance, and eventually develop an addiction.
Decreasing estrogen and progesterone hormone levels also contribute to many emotional changes. This includes irritability, decreased sex drive, depression, mood swings, and low self-esteem. In fact, women are two to four times more likely to suffer from depression during menopause than they were previously in life. On the other hand, changing hormones always have a huge effect on emotions, which can result in frequent and extreme mood swings.
Facing emotional turmoil during this time in life is particularly difficult. Many women deal with hair loss, weight gain, feelings of lethargy, and the acknowledgment that they can no longer bear children or retrieve the livelihood of their younger days. Combining these thoughts and experiences with drastic hormone changes can make some women seek escape from reality—and many attempt to find this through the use of drugs and alcohol.
How Physical and Emotional Changes Contribute to Addiction
Individuals who suffer from drug or alcohol addiction usually begin abusing substances because they are searching for relief, from physical or mental distress. Menopausal women are more susceptible to substance use as a result of the physical and emotional discomfort and changes, caused by the hormonal changes occurring in their bodies. Common reasons why women begin to abuse substances during menopause include:
- Mental distress—Struggles with mental health are one of the top reasons why many people begin to abuse drugs and alcohol. To cope with hormonal changes and mood swings, some women may turn to drugs and alcohol to escape. Although substances can be effective at numbing emotions and promoting a sense of euphoria, any substance can become dangerously addictive when used in this manner. Instead, it is crucial to treat mental and emotional distress with the help of a support group, or a mental health counselor.
- Self-medication—Painkillers and alcohol are sometimes wrongly viewed as acceptable treatment options for symptoms of menopause. Women will often turn to them, to alleviate insomnia and relieve any mental or emotional distress that they are experiencing. Whether a woman is experiencing physical or emotional pain, fatigue, or weight gain, self-medicating menopausal symptoms is an extremely dangerous practice. After all, self-medicating without consulting a healthcare professional will only mask the symptoms being experienced, and is not a permanent solution.
- Chronic pain—Studies show that menopause symptoms double the risk of chronic pain. During this time, women are likely to report pain conditions like fibromyalgia, arthritis, and back pain. As these conditions can greatly affect one’s quality of life, prescription painkillers are often prescribed and abused. However, these medications are highly addictive, and are responsible for the majority of overdose deaths in the nation.
- Increase in substance use—If a woman has battled substance abuse in the past, or was using drugs or alcohol before menopause, her use may increase during these difficult stages of her life. When substance use begins to become more frequent, the body will develop a tolerance where it requires increasing amounts of a substance to produce the desired effects. Shortly after tolerance begins to build, the physical dependence to drugs or alcohol often occurs as well. In turn, women who are dependent on a substance will experience withdrawal symptoms when they abruptly stop using, making it even harder to manage their addiction, or quit using drugs or alcohol.
Adverse Effects of Addiction During Menopause
Abusing drugs or alcohol during menopause can trigger a devastating cycle. Although many symptoms can drive women to abuse substances, substance abuse will only perpetuate mental health problems, and exacerbate the symptoms that women are trying to manage. As symptoms worsen, substance use usually becomes more severe as well.
Some adverse effects of developing a substance use disorder at this stage in life include the worsening of mental distress or development of mental health problems, the inability to function without drugs or alcohol, increasingly severe physical symptoms, and the risk of addiction.
Alternative Ways to Cope During Menopause
Since women of menopausal age are more susceptible to falling into the deadly grips of addiction, it is imperative to find healthy ways to cope with the physical and psychological symptoms that occur due to hormonal changes. Rather than turning to drugs or alcohol, some alternative ways to cope during menopause include:
- Getting daily exercise and eating a nutritious diet to reduce physical symptoms
- Embracing creativity to mitigate depression and anxiety
- Fostering healthy relationships to gain emotional support and decrease loneliness
- Incorporating healthy habits into daily life, such as yoga, meditation, hiking, or volunteering
- If symptoms are severe, speak to a health care professional about hormone replacement therapy or safe medication use .
If a woman of menopausal age is already suffering from addiction, it is important for her to consider seeking out a recovery support group, or an addiction treatment center that addresses the unique needs of women in recovery. Without treatment, continued drug and alcohol abuse is dangerous, and will only make symptoms worse, so it is important to get help as soon as possible.