- Almost 1,200 women took part in Newson Health’s survey about alcohol, medication and gambling during the perimenopause and menopause
- A third of women said they were drinking more alcohol
- Others turning to over the counter products to deal with menopause-related symptoms
Women are spending nearly £3,000 on alcohol and over-the-counter (OTC) medication in a year, in a bid to cope with menopause-related symptoms, a survey by Newson Health reveals.
With the yearly UK grocery spend for an average adult woman now reaching just over £1600*, women are spending over £1,000 more on self-medicating than on day-to-day food costs.
The survey, conducted by Newson Health Group, also revealed that one in three (33%) respondents said they drink more since becoming perimenopausal or menopausal, while one in eight women regularly consume more alcohol than the recommended intake of 14 units a week to alleviate their menopause symptoms.
Over the counter medicines and herbal remedies
Similarly, over half of respondents (55%) had increased the amount of prescription painkillers and over-the-counter medication they take to try to manage their menopause-related symptoms. Nearly a quarter (22%) said they spend up to £50 a year on OTC remedies, while one in eight (15%) were spending in excess of £100 a year on pain relief, eye drops and herbal remedies.
The news comes against the backdrop of issues with access to treatment, misinformation and medical gaslighting in an area of women’s health that is undervalued, under resourced and underfunded.
What respondents told our survey
The survey of almost 1,200 perimenopausal and menopausal women, conducted by Newson Health Group in recognition of World Menopause Day, goes on to show that one in four women are spending up to £50 a week on alcohol.
Managing menopause symptoms and a lack of access to menopause treatments were the main reasons driving women to drink more according to the online responses. Some 70% of the women surveyed cited anxiety, stress or depression as the reason for doing so, with several women describing alcohol as ‘an escape’.
Gambling and OTC medication consumption are also coping mechanisms for many women. Some 5% of respondents said they gambled more during the perimenopause/menopause, with four in ten (40%) respondents saying they have been prescribed more prescription medication since the start of perimenopause/menopause (excluding HRT).
The lack of education amongst health practitioners seems to be a widespread problem with over three in ten women stating that they were wrongly prescribed antidepressants.
Not being able to access to the right treatment seems to be a key factor driving women to take things into their own hands. Over half (55%) of menopausal women questioned admit to using more over-the-counter medication since been going through the perimenopause and menopause despite there being no evidence to suggest that this work.
When diving into what they are actually spending their money on, 36% of women admitted to buying over-the-counter painkillers to ease crippling pain with a further 15% hoping that herbal medicines would ease the symptoms of a health condition that affects over half of the population.
Lack of awareness and access to treatment
Whilst the menopause taboo in the UK is slowly lifting, these stark figures reinforce that due the lack of awareness and access to treatment, more needs to be done as many women are suffering unnecessarily.
Dr Louise Newson, GP, Menopause Specialist and founder of the balance menopause app, said: ‘It deeply upsets me to see that women are suffering unnecessarily, but sadly I’m not surprised by our survey findings. I speak to many of my women who are struggling with issues around alcohol and other addictions.
‘The changes experienced in the perimenopause and menopause can cause women a lot of discomfort and stress. As a result, they may turn to painkillers or alcohol to relieve these symptoms or, as our study shows, be more susceptible to substance abuse.
‘For people already addicted to substances, addictive behaviours can increase during the perimenopause and menopause, likely because of the loss of sex hormones in the brain. The sad truth is that these women would find greater relief for menopause symptoms and less disruption to their lives were they to have access to appropriate education and treatment, including HRT. We must do more to make menopause treatment more broadly accessible and to stop women turning to unhelpful and harmful substances in desperation,’ concluded Dr Newson.
More discussion and awareness needed
Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Judith Mohring said: ‘A lot of women find themselves depressed, anxious, and with variable symptoms that are often misdiagnosed as anything other than menopause.
‘Coupled with the demands of mid-life, numerous women I see end up turning to alcohol as a way of coping. Many find that they might be less tolerant to drink than they used to be, and it worsens their symptoms – but it can also be a way of managing what otherwise feels unmanageable. For women with stimulant abuse issues, there’s a complex interplay between symptoms and drug use, meaning they can easily slip in their recovery.
‘Much like mental health and addiction, the menopause wasn’t publicly discussed until recently. The shame around talking about it has led to a lack of research and a significant impact on the real lives of women. What we need is public discussion, more awareness in the profession and a reduction of shame. When women are being cut down in the prime of their lives, due to simple a lack of information about what to expect, how to manage and effective treatments, it affects everyone – couples, families, businesses, and society.’
How we carried out our survey
Our anonymous online survey was conducted through the Dr Louise Newson and balance social channels from 13-27 September 2023 and was open to women with experience of perimenopause and/or menopause.
Our survey received a total of 1,178 responses and the findings were analysed by Newson Health Group staff.