Binge drinking: how it disrupts your menstrual health

When it comes to alcohol, you might be aware of the negative impact that binge drinking can have on your liver – but what about its effect on your menstrual health? We highlight discuss why quitting the habit could improve your menstrual cycle.

What is binge drinking?

With one in three people having increased their alcohol intake in 2020, there’s no doubt that binge drinking is becoming a popular vice for coping in uncertain times (although of course, there are much healthier ways to do this).

But how is it defined? According to the NHS, binge drinking is considered to be:

  • Eight units of alcohol in one sitting for men. This translates as five bottles (330ml) of 5% strength beer or five small (125ml) glasses of 13% strength wine.
  • Six units of alcohol in one sitting for women. This translates as two pints of 5% strength beer or two large (250ml) glasses of 12% strength wine.

You might find that some people have a different view on what constitutes binge drinking as they have a higher alcohol tolerance than others.

This tolerance is determined by several factors, including your gender, genetics, body mass index and current state of your mental health.

Closeup of women holding shot glasses

Generally speaking though, binge drinking is consuming a lot of alcohol in a short period of time – or drinking to become intoxicated.

Does binge drinking really affect your menstrual cycle?

The relationship between alcohol consumption and menstrual health is complex.

This is because everyone experiences periods differently.

It’s possible for a sober person to experience irregular periods, or an excessive drinker to experience regular periods.

However, studies show that binge drinking can disturb your menstrual health.

‘In premenopausal women, chronic heavy drinking can contribute to a multitude of reproductive disorders. These include cessation of menstruation, irregular menstrual cycles, menstrual cycles without ovulation [and] early menopause.’ - The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

The biology behind drinking and your menstrual health

We know that drinking excessively can impact your menstrual cycle, but why does this happen? In premenopausal women, studies by Oxford Academic have shown that binge drinking often leads to an increase in estrogen and a decrease in progesterone. This process disrupts normal hormonal behaviours necessary for regular ovulation.

Regular ovulation takes place when an egg is released from one of your ovaries 10 to 16 days before your period starts.

This is a sign of good menstrual health and fertility.

A group of people drinking beer and toasting

Meanwhile, the hormonal imbalance caused by excessive alcohol consumption can disrupt ovulation.

This can cause menstrual disorders, including: menstrual cycles without ovulation (anovulation), infertility and early menopause.

In 2017, menstrual health app creator, Clue, revealed that binge drinking can also lead to cycle irregularities and amenorrhea.

What are cycle irregularities?

The average menstrual cycle lasts for 28 days, but it is completely normal for your cycle to be slightly longer or shorter than this.

However, cycle irregularities occur when the timeframe between your periods significantly changes.

They also occur when the duration of your period and its flow (light or heavy) is inconsistent.

What is amenorrhea?

Amenorrhea is when your period stops completely.

Women who have missed at least three menstrual cycles consistently are classified as having amenorrhea.

The most common cause of amenorrhea is pregnancy.

Will quitting alcohol improve your menstrual health?

If you have a hormonal imbalance as a result of your alcohol consumption, you may find that your cycle regulates again when you stop drinking.

Woman lying in bed with hot water bottle

This is because regular periods tend to occur when you are fit and healthy as your body is well balanced and nourished.

Plus, avoiding binge drinking won’t just help your menstrual cycle – it will also significantly improve your physical and mental health. 

However, it’s worth remembering that people still experience their periods very differently.

If you quit drinking and your periods remain problematic, always speak to your GP.

Don’t panic

Before you start avoiding alcohol completely, research has shown that having a serious drinking problem is likely to impact your menstrual health.

(Not one too many wines over the festive season.)

If you’re a regular drinker but do not have a binge drinking problem, your cycle is unlikely to be affected.

Seeking help for binge drinking

If you think you have a problem with binge drinking, there are many alcohol addiction support services available to help you quit. You can find local support services in your area.

If you simply want to reduce your alcohol intake and improve your overall health, follow the NHS guidelines.

If you’re feeling worried about your alcohol consumption, visit one of our hospitals for a free alcohol and drug dependence assessment.

A counsellor will use this information to decide what kind of help and support would be most helpful for you. To seek treatment for alcohol liver disease, speak to one of our trusted Consultants.

To find out more, call us on: 0808 101 0337 or make an online enquiry.

 

You may also like…

How much alcohol is too much, and how is it affecting our health?
Read more

The initiative has been praised for its health benefits, but is abstaining from alcohol for a month actually good for you? We consider the science. Read more