Sipping In Place: Alcohol & Menopause in the Age of Quarantine

Medically reviewed by Dr. Tamara Neuhaus MD

The distance from Samantha’s SIP office (her laptop perched on a TV table in front of an overstuffed chair in her bedroom) to her fridge is exactly 24’. At 5:00 every day, she closes her laptop, walks past her teenage kids’ rooms where they’re texting with friends, and pours herself a glass of pinot grigio. She then walks another 12’ to her porch and enjoys some previously unfathomable me time. “I have to admit, there are some things about sheltering in place that have been pretty sweet, and trading in the commute home for this, is one of them,” Samantha says with a deep, cleansing sigh. 

Gwen has a standing Thursday night Zoom meeting with her old college friends who have long since scattered across the country. They all log on with the designated cocktail for the week mixed and in hand, and talk about pretty much everything.

“I invented the Kumquatini, which is exactly what it sounds like. It’s fantastic. Maybe a little too fantastic,” admits Gwen.

When cities, states, and counties across the country put Shelter In Place orders into effect to help flatten the COVID-19 curve, off-premise alcohol sales soared. In stores, sales were up 54% during the week ending March 21, according to Nielsen1, a marketing research firm. Online alcohol sales for the same week were up 262%. “People have definitely been stocking up since the quarantine started,” says Aura Bland, a sales associate at a wine shop in Providence, RI. “It’s not an increase in the number of customers. People have been buying more.” 

As the SIP weeks have worn on, those numbers have come down, a bit. But through April and May, in-store sales across the country were still roughly 20-30%2 higher than they were during the same months of 2019. And online sales continued their upward trend, with a whopping 477% increase the week of April 25. While these stats are eye-popping, it’s important to remember that alcohol sales in bars and restaurants have all but dried up. So there’s also a bit of rebalancing going on. And according to a Morning Consult survey3, about as many people are self-reporting that they’ve cut back on drinking during the SIP as are people reporting that they’re drinking more. 

“I’m actually drinking less, because I’ve had to start taking an anti-anxiety drug to help with sleeplessness and, you know, the general malaise of the situation,” explains Mel.

In conversations with our doctors at The Cusp, many of our members are sharing that they’re in the “drinking more” camp. A glass of wine with dinner has turned into two glasses, because they have the time. Or weekend cocktail hour starts earlier and lasts longer, because what else is there to do? Some women have been very candid about the fact that they’re using booze to quell their increased stress or anxiety. And let’s face it, there’s a lot to be stressed and anxious about these days.

We totally get all of this. And we absolutely do not (and cannot) sit in judgment. These are crazy times and we’re all doing the best we can to navigate them and find moments of peace and happiness. To that end, we have some thoughts on how to find those moments without blowing through your alcohol allowance (or your liver). But first, let’s talk a little about why we, especially as women approaching and in menopause, should look beyond booze for comfort.

The Risks Outweigh the Rewards

A study in Germany4 showed that anxiety disorders substantially increased the severity of alcoholism in women. We know that fluctuating estrogen levels can alter two neurotransmitters in the brain that are strongly linked5 to anxiety: serotonin and norepinephrine. So anxiety is not uncommon during perimenopause. While alcohol is appealing because it can temporarily reduce anxiety, it can turn around and bite you in the butt within just a few hours, increasing6 feelings of anxiety that can last into the next day. Can you see the vicious circle forming?

Then there’s this: the older we are, the higher our likelihood of catching COVID-19. And evidence7 shows that alcohol impairs the immune system’s ability to defend against infection. It also increases the likelihood of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), which is a hallmark of COVID-19. Besides all that, it increases the likelihood of certain types of cancers, including breast cancer.

And lest we forget, booze has calories8. A glass of wine: about 128. A bottle of beer: 150-350. Mixed drinks 75-4000+. If you’re struggling to lose The Meno 10, alcohol is not your friend. It can also trigger night sweats, interfere with REM sleep, and further dehydrate your already moisture-compromised tissues—we’re talking skin and vag here.

Healthy Substitutes

Our aim with this story is not to tell women to stop drinking. It’s more to encourage women to moderate their drinking in an effort to stay healthy and manage peri/menopause symptoms during these dicey times. One way you can do that is to set drinking parameters for yourself. For instance, limit your alcohol consumption to five drinks per week, and never more than two in a day. 

“Sure, but then how do I fill all these extra hours spent sheltering in place without the extra drinks?” We’re so glad you asked. Here’s our Top 5 List of Healthy Distractions in the Age of Quarantine: 

  1. Get outside in nature. Sunshine9, forest bathing10, gardening11. Any of these can lift your spirits, improve your mental health, and change your perspective. 

  2. Exercise. It’s good for your body, releases feel-good chemicals in your brain, reduces stress, helps manage weight, and improves your sleep.

  3. Meditate. Practice Mindfulness Meditation by sitting comfortably and turning your attention to what’s happening in the present: your breath; the smells, sights, and sounds around you; the feeling of your body in space. Some small studies12 have shown that this can improve anxiety. 

  4. Speak with a therapist. Giving voice to your worries and fears is a great first step to confronting them. You can also use this time to address long-held issues you want to resolve. 

  5. Connect with others. Whether via video chat or in person—outside, at least 6 feet apart—positive human connection is one of the most crucial ingredients for mental and physical health13.

We’re confident that these healthy substitutes can soothe your soul, protect your body, and ease your menopause transition. And ours, too. 

Sources

1. Rebalancing the ‘COVID-19 Effect’ on Alcohol Sales

2. Five Weeks of Weekly Off Premise Wines Sales Growth Above 30 Percent

3. Cooped Up at Home, Millennials Most Likely to Turn to Food, Alcohol.

4. Smith, J. P. & Randall, C. L. Anxiety and alcohol use disorders: comorbidity and treatment considerations.

5. Ressler, K. J. & Nemeroff, C. B. Role of serotonergic and noradrenergic systems in the pathophysiology of depression and anxiety disorders.

6. Anxiety and Alcohol: How They Are Linked.

7. Sarkar, D., Katherine Jung, M. & Joe Wang, H. Alcohol and the Immune System.

8. Calorie count - Alcoholic beverages: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia

9. Nall, R., RN, BSN & CCRN. What Are the Benefits of Sunlight?

10. Fitzgerald, S. The secret to mindful travel? A walk in the woods.

11. Gillihan, S. J. 10 Mental Health Benefits of Gardening.

12. Goyal, M.

13. Seppälä, E. Connect To Thrive.

About Us

The Cusp Team
The Cusp provides personalized menopause care. Our doctors have deep expertise and a broad treatment toolkit, offering natural and medical therapies to help you feel better.