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Does Alcohol Have an Impact on Your Menstrual Cycle?

Alcohol and your period have a complex relationship. Drinking alcohol can make your periods irregular, heavier, longer, more painful, and more complicated. 

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According to the 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 81.9% of women 18 and older drink alcohol.[1] If you’re one of them, learning more about how alcohol changes your body could make you change your mind. 

Alcohol & Your Period: What’s the Connection?

Researchers have examined the impact of alcohol on several parts of a woman’s body and her period. These are a few of the ways that alcohol can change your menstrual cycle:

Irregular Periods 

The endocrine system controls information between organs, including those involved in reproduction. The hypothalamus in the brain produces a hormone that travels to the ovaries and stimulates the release of an egg, which then secretes another hormone. This waxing and waning of hormones is responsible for a woman’s monthly period. 

Alcohol consumption at the wrong time in a woman’s cycle can cause her to have her period too early or too late. If she drinks heavily, she can develop an irregular menstrual cycle. She may also have decreased fertility levels, as her body isn’t producing healthy follicles monthly.[2]

Heavy Periods 

Women’s bodies have androgens (male hormones) and estrogens (female hormones), and they’re typically kept in balance. When women drink alcohol, their androgens are converted to estrogens, leading to a deep chemical imbalance.[3]

In one study of the issue, women who consumed more than 10 g of alcohol per day had an 18% increase in estrogen levels when compared to women who drank less.[3]

Higher estrogen levels are tied to problems like an increase in breast cancer risks.[3] They can also lead to heavier periods. 

Your body needs estrogen and progesterone in balance for a healthy period. When your estrogen levels are too high, the uterus lining grows too thick, and a heavier period results.[4]

Longer Periods 

At the end of your menstrual cycle, cells on the lining of the uterus break down, and as they do, they release prostaglandins. These chemicals restrict uterine blood vessels and entice the muscles around the uterus to contract. The result is a quick and efficient period.[5]

Alcohol can work directly on prostaglandin synthesis. In research conducted on more than 100 people, low levels of prostaglandins were found in people who drank heavily when compared to those who did not.[6]

When prostaglandins aren’t present, your body can’t remove your uterine lining as efficiently. That can mean that your period is a trickle that lasts for weeks instead of a brief bit of bleeding done in a few days. 

Increased Pain 

Alcohol keeps your body from producing the hormone vasopressin. This chemical encourages your kidneys to retain fluid. Without it, you visit the bathroom more often and lose more fluid with each trip. The more you drink, the more dehydrated you might feel.[7]

Researchers say that dehydration can significantly increase the pain you feel during your period. In one study of students, increasing water intake significantly reduced the amount of painkillers the students took during their periods. The researchers concluded that any source of dehydration makes periods more painful.[8]

Increased PMS Symptoms

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) involves pain and poor mental health before your period hits. Researchers say about one case in 10 of the syndrome could be linked to alcohol.[9]

Researchers say alcohol might boost the production of sex hormones during the menstrual cycle, leading to symptoms like breast tenderness. Alcohol might also impede the production of serotonin, which is responsible for regulating both mood and behavior.[10] These two changes could make alcohol responsible for PMS problems.

Poor Sleep 

Many women complain of poor sleep during the menstrual cycle as hormone levels rise. Some women experience decreased alertness due to these changes, and they may struggle to concentrate and perform at work. Poor sleep can lead to problems like depression as well.[11]

Research suggests that alcohol can help people to fall asleep faster, but it can alter sleep quality. People who drink often awaken in the middle of the night and can’t fall asleep again. They may complain of daytime sleepiness.[12]

Drinking alcohol could make a woman’s period-related sleep problems even worse. She could have a tougher time coping with all of the other changes her period can cause. 

Reduce the Impact of Alcohol on Your Menstrual Cycle

Alcohol can have a deep impact on your period and your overall health. If you’re struggling with alcohol abuse, this could be the incentive you need to change your life for the better and quit drinking. 

If you’re a long-time heavy drinker, ask your doctor or an addiction treatment professional for help before you quit. Sudden cessation of alcohol in heavy users can lead to serious withdrawal symptoms that can be life-threatening. A professional can help you find a plan to quit drinking that’s safe and right for you. 

Updated March 10, 2024
  1. Alcohol use in the United States: Age groups and demographic characteristics. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Published 2023. Accessed February 22, 2024.
  2. Rachdaoui N, Sarkar D. Pathophysiology on the effects of alcohol abuse on the endocrine system. Alcohol Research Current Reviews. 2017;38(2):255-276.
  3. Frydenberg H, Flote V, Larsson I, et al. Alcohol consumption, endogenous estrogen and mammographic density among premenopausal women. Breast Center Research. 2015;17:103.
  4. Periods (menstruation). State of New Jersey. Accessed February 22, 2024.
  5. Using foods against menstrual pain. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Accessed February 22, 2024.
  6. Bode C, Maute G, Bode J. Prostaglandin E2 and prostaglandin F2 alpha biosynthesis in human gastric mucosa: Effect of chronic alcohol misuse. Gut. 1996;39:348-352.
  7. Torkan B, Mousavi M, Dehghani S, et al. The role of water intake in the severity of pain and menstrual distress among females suffering from primary dysmenorrhea: A semi-experimental study. BMC Women’s Health. 2021;21(1):40.
  8. Fernandez M, Saulyte J, Inskip H, et al. Premenstrual syndrome and alcohol consumption: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Epidemiology. 2018;8:e019490.
  9. Alcohol intake may be linked with PMS. University of Southampton. Accessed February 22, 2024.
  10. Nowakowski S, Meers J, Heimbach E. Sleep and women’s health. Sleep Medicine Research. 2013;4(1):1-22.
  11. Park S, Oh M, Lee B, et al. The effects of alcohol on quality of sleep. Korean Journal of Family Medicine. 2015;36(6):294-299.
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