26 Oct Which cycle days you’re likely to drink more alcohol
BY GABRIELLE LICHTERMAN
- Numerous studies reveal that hormones in your menstrual cycle impact alcohol cravings and how much alcohol you consume.
UPDATED OCTOBER 26, 2022 (originally published November 22, 2017)—Planning to throw back a cocktail to celebrate a birthday, commemorate a holiday or just add more zest to a night out?
Or are you ever surprised when you end up imbibing in alcohol when you didn’t plan to?
Or ever chastise yourself for going overboard by drinking way more than you thought you ever would?
If so, you should pay close attention to the growing research that shows how hormones in your menstrual cycle can impact cravings for alcohol and how much alcohol you consume. Here’s what scientists say you can expect…
You reach for more alcohol right before and during ovulation
Once you’re in Week 2 of your menstrual cycle–the week that leads up to and includes ovulation–heads-up: There’s a higher chance you’ll be downing more shots or emptying more glasses of beer or wine than you planned.
That’s the news from a 2022 study in the journal Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology that found a high level of estrogen in this phase of your cycle leads to less “inhibitory control”–meaning, you’re less able to acknowledge when you’ve had enough alcohol and stop yourself from drinking anymore.1
Other studies show there’s another reason that high estrogen keeps you drinking: It makes the effects of alcohol feel more pleasurable by sending the brain’s reward centers into overdrive.2
These estrogen-fueled effects put you at a higher risk of bingeing, which is drinking far more than you may have intended.
Not only that, but after you give in to temptation to drink during your Week 2, you may end up experiencing cravings for alcohol during Week 2 in your following menstrual cycle. That’s because the super-sized pleasure sensation you experience from high estrogen trains your brain to want alcohol in your Week 2 again so you can experience the same intensely rewarding feeling. This might explain that sudden yen for your favorite microbrew, Merlot or Santa’s Little Helper cocktail once your estrogen starts to spike.
You’re more likely to drink in the second half of your menstrual cycle
A 2018 analysis of 19 studies shows that women are more likely to consume alcohol in their luteal phase, which are the two weeks prior to your period–aka your Week 3 and Week 4.3 It’s likely one a way women deal with mood issues, such as sadness or anxiety, that can arise when your level of estrogen drops twice–for about three days after ovulation, then again during the six days before your period.
Cravings spike if you have PMS or PMDD
Do you experience premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), which is an intense form of PMS that interferes with everyday life, and also have a history of substance abuse? If so, you’re more prone to experiencing alcohol cravings during your the second half of your cycle, shows a 2022 study in the journal Women & Health.4
More alcohol=more problems
Knowing how your hormones are impacting your drinking habits and cravings is important. That’s because it helps you become more aware of why you want to reach for a bottle during certain points in your menstrual cycle.
This means you can make plans ahead of time to limit your alcohol consumption–and avoid one hell of a hangover.
And, if you’re trying to abstain from alcohol, you can know when you’ll be more vulnerable to relapse due to cravings so you can take steps to lower your risk, for example, by avoiding drinking triggers and connecting with your alcohol counselor or sponsor.
Unfortunately, a 2021 study in the journal Lancet shows that regularly consuming any amount of alcohol from any source (beer, spirits, wine) can raise your risk of certain cancers, including breast, esophageal, larynx, liver, mouth and rectum.5 That’s because alcohol has a wide range of negative effects on your body, including altering the level of estrogen and other hormones, blocking the absorption of healthy nutrients that protect against cancer development and causing DNA damage that can lead to cancerous growths.
What’s more, drinking in excess can lead to or exacerbate depression and heart disease.
So, if you drink alcohol, consider reducing your frequency and do so only in moderation.
If you or someone you know has an alcohol problem, help is available. Click here for more information.
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(1) Annie K. Griffith, et al., “Heightened sensitivity to the disinhibiting effect of alcohol in women during the late follicular phase of the menstrual cycle”, Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, published online October 20, 2022
(2) Bertha J. Vandegrift, et al., “Estradiol increases the sensitivity of ventral tegmental area dopamine neurons to dopamine and ethanol”, PLOS ONE, published online November 6, 2017
Michelle M. Martel, Tory Eisenlohr-Moul, Bethan Roberts, “Interactive effects of ovarian steroid hormones on alcohol use and binge drinking across the menstrual cycle”, Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 126 (2017): 1104-1113
(3) María Del Mar Fernández, et al., “Premenstrual syndrome and alcohol consumption: a systematic review and meta-analysis”, BMJ Open, published online April 16, 2018
(4) Rouhollah Qurishi, Joost P. H. Drenth 2, Cornelis A. J. De Jong, “Premenstrual syndrome predicts alcohol craving in women with substance use disorders”, Women & Health, published online May 31, 2022
(5) Harriet Rumgay, et al., “Global burden of cancer in 2020 attributable to alcohol consumption: a population-based study”, Lancet Oncology, 22 (2021): 1071–1080
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