Alcohol misuse takes its toll on multiple systems of the body. For instance, long-term misuse damages the cardiovascular system, increasing the risk of high blood pressure, stroke, irregular heartbeat, and heart disease. For women, drinking alcohol, especially in excess, can also affect the menstrual cycle. For some women, the effects are so strong that they may even ask themselves, “Why does my period stop when I drink alcohol?” If alcohol has ever impacted your menstrual cycle, find some valuable answers below, as well as helpful information about alcohol rehab and medication assisted treatment for alcohol use.
What is a Menstrual Cycle (Period)?
When most women talk about their menstrual cycle, they refer to their period, or that “time of the month.” While the period is probably the most noticeable part of the menstrual cycle, there are other things going on physiologically throughout the course of the month, both before and after the period occurs.
Most women have a menstrual cycle lasting 28 days, but a range of 21 to 35 days falls within what is considered normal. The menstrual cycle describes the length between periods, so the cycle is said to restart on the first day of your period each month.
The cycle occurs in the following stages:
- Menses: This is the most familiar part of the menstrual cycle, when the uterus sheds its lining, and a woman experiences her period. It involves three to five days of bleeding, but some women may bleed for as long as seven days.
- Follicular phase: A woman enters this phase after her period. At this time, estrogen levels increase, and the lining of the uterus thickens. At the same time, follicle-stimulating hormone leads to growth in the ovaries’ follicles, and by day 14 of the cycle, one of the follicles develops a mature egg called an ovum.
- Ovulation: Around day 14 of the menstrual cycle (about two weeks before the next period), luteinizing hormone increases and causes your ovary to release the egg, which is referred to as ovulation.
- Luteal phase: Finally, the body moves into the luteal phase, during which the egg travels through your fallopian tubes to the uterus. Progesterone levels increase to prepare the lining of the uterus for pregnancy, and if a sperm fertilizes the egg, it implants in the wall of the uterus. This represents the start of pregnancy. If there is no pregnancy, estrogen and progesterone levels decline, and the thick uterus lining sheds again, signaling the start of another period and the beginning of another cycle.
How Does the Menstrual Cycle Work?
The body’s menstrual cycle is a product of circulating hormone levels. These hormones are produced by the body’s pituitary gland and an area of the brain called the hypothalamus. As these hormone levels increase and decrease over the course of a woman’s cycle, various physiological activities occur in response.
Since hormones are the cornerstone of the menstrual cycle, anything that influences hormone levels can affect the processes that occur during this cycle. In fact, the relationship between alcohol and the menstrual cycle occurs through alcohol’s effects on hormone levels, which are discussed more below.
How does alcohol affect your period?
If you’ve ever lost your period and asked yourself, “Why does my period stop when I drink alcohol?” you may be wondering why alcohol affects your period in this way. As indicated above, the answer lies in alcohol’s effect on hormone levels. Research has found that drinking alcohol can increase levels of estrogen, testosterone, and luteinizing hormone. More specifically, binge drinking (consuming four or more drinks on one occasion) is associated with significant increases in estrogen.
Hormonal imbalances caused by heavy drinking are one of the primary reasons that alcohol can affect your period. There is some evidence in the research that alcohol consumption can lead to heavier periods as well. Furthermore, other research has found that moderate to heavy drinking during ovulation or the luteal phase causes hormonal disruptions that can reduce fertility.
In cases of heavy drinking, disruptions to your menstrual cycle may be more severe. Long-term alcohol misuse is associated with a loss of the period, which is medically referred to as amenorrhea. Heavy, ongoing alcohol misuse can lead to dysfunction in the pituitary gland, which is responsible for hormonal functioning. When hormonal functions are disrupted, a woman can lose her period and her fertility.
Is it safe to drink on your period?
There is nothing inherently dangerous about drinking on your period. In many cases, women can safely drink in moderation while having their period. For women, moderate or low-risk drinking is defined as no more than 7 drinks in a given week, and no more than 3 drinks in a given day. Staying within these limits lowers your risk of developing a clinical alcohol addiction, called an alcohol use disorder.
While some women can safely drink while on their periods, others may find that they are more sensitive to alcohol during this time. Some women may find that the dehydrating effects of alcohol lead to worse cramping, which means it may not be the best idea to drink while on your period. Other women may struggle with fatigue if they drink on their periods, because alcohol can also disrupt sleep.
If you find that you are sensitive to the effects of alcohol during your period, you might consider switching to alternative beverages, such as water, lemonade, fruit juice, tea, or seltzer.