It’s time to talk about Menopause and Addiction in the same sentence.

Disclaimer – This isn’t a pity blog but a call to action based on my experience.

My Story

My periods and mood swings had plagued me for years before I’d started using drugs. My emotions would fluctuate like a frigging swinging pendulum. One minute I could be calm, collected, and rational; the next, I’d transform into an angry, possessed woman. The symptoms had worsened after having kids, but I’d learned to live with them.

I have previously shared that the only good thing about my drug use was that I didn’t suffer any of the emotional crap that came with the dreaded monthly cycle. In fact, during my using, I rarely had a period. At the time, the drugs masked everything wrong in my life. I was on a constant high, that was, until I crashed.

On the second day of withdrawing from amphetamine in the mental institution, I came on my period. I vividly remember the usual sense of physical relief enveloping me like it had done every month previously. I honestly felt that good. I even wondered if the doctors might have misdiagnosed me and questioned if I had been suffering from a “VERY BAD time of the month” instead of drug-induced psychosis, which wasn’t the case.

It wasn’t until I was a couple of months into my recovery that the pattern of mild psychotic meltdowns started to emerge. I dismissed them for a while. I just assumed that it was part of the recovery process, but they started to get worse. I went to see my GP, and it transpired that there was a name for this. It was called Premenstrual Syndrome, or PMT for short, and I have been on Prozac ever since.

Being diagnosed was vital because it helped me to come to terms with the invisible changes my body was going through, but more importantly, it was reassuring to know that I wasn’t going out of my mind again.

Fast forward 20+ years later – I plunged back into the same dark place I found myself in years ago in my early recovery. I felt like the Prozac had stopped working. My periods were all over the place, so I returned to the GP. I tried to describe my symptoms, and she suggested that I might be stressed or that I might be suffering from depression. I was furious. I remember leaving the building feeling like I was being dismissed or, even worse, a hypochondriac. The only thing I did know for sure was that I knew myself better than anyone, and I knew enough to know that this wasn’t stress or depression.

It was a colleague at work who suggested that I might be perimenopausal. I’d never heard of such a thing, but when I read up on the symptoms, everything clicked into place, so armed with my newfound knowledge I headed back to the doctors. Only this time, I saw a male GP who was particularly interested in this area. He concluded and agreed with me that all the symptoms I was perimenopausal and offered me HRT without hesitation. That was two years ago and during this time, I made more of a couscous effort to take care of my health. I exercised, I did all the things a woman in her 50’s should be doing, and yet despite all this over a month ago, the same old familiar feelings crept back, only it felt so much worse

  • Instead of getting hot flushes, I found myself suffering from cold flushes 
  • I’m usually positive and upbeat but found myself paralysed by anxiety.
  • I’m renowned for ‘Avin a word wi me sen’, but even my thoughts were lost in a haze of brain fog, and I couldn’t string a sentence together.
  • I felt permanently hungover, and yet no alcohol had passed my lips

I love words, but I struggled to find the right words to articulate how I felt (physically and emotionally). I tried putting on a brave face, but inside I felt like I was falling apart, that was until I opened up to a close friend. She’d recently been through something similar and suggested that I might need to return for an HRT review. I contacted my GP again, who wanted blood tests to rule anything else out. Thankfully the test came back clear, and she swiftly amended my HRT. That was over a week ago, and I’m pleased to say that I feel like I am slowly starting to feel normal again (Whatever the xxck normal means)

There is an old saying in the recovery community.

The best thing about recovery is you get your feelings back, and the worst thing about recovery is you get your feelings back.’

But what if those negative feelings have nothing to do with drugs and everything to do with your hormones? I recently spoke to a couple of ladies who are in recovery, and they shared very similar experiences.

There are a couple of quotes that struck and stayed with me

‘Honestly, I’ve done plenty of detoxes in my time, but going through this feels ten times worse, I genuinely thought, and some days still feel like I’m losing the plot.’

‘During my early drinking days, I vividly remember saying to the doctor, I don’t feel right, I feel like I am going mad, and its only now and with a lot of hindsight, that I now know that what I was experiencing was caused partly by my hormones and I was probably using drink as a crutch.’

In my lifetime, I have suffered the highs and lows of going through different cycles of change and not just addiction, PMT, and Perimenopause, and now hopefully, I am in the final change of menopause. In all cases, it took some time to accept that there was a problem, mainly because the changes are so gradual and subtle that it’s easy to miss or dismiss and let’s not forget the stigma.

Menopause, alongside menstruation, has often been used as the punchline to jokes. While hormonal changes might be funny to some, they are normal bodily changes that most women have to experience. Unfortunately, they can often come with difficult side effects that women should be supported through and not made fun of.

Much like my recovery journey, I have learned that this menopausal journey is unique to me, and I know I’m not alone. – hence this blog.

I class myself fortunate; one of the best things about my recovery was creating a toolkit full of strategies and a strong sense of resilience that allows me to step back briefly, regroup and move forward. But everyone does or can.

It angers me to think of how many women might be going through peri/menopause who are having their symptoms dismissed. But what scares me more is that I have worked in the addiction field now for over 25 years, and I have never once heard a drugs/recovery worker talk about it, let alone consider the potential impact the menopause might impact on a woman’s recovery journey, and this must change.

A recent study[1] highlighted that

  • Older women who use drugs may be at risk of earlier onset of menopause than those in the general population.
  • Issues related to menopause can be complicated by methadone treatment
  • Women during their menopausal transition may be at higher risk of relapse

And what about self-medicating? During perimenopause and menopause, drugs, such as opiates for pain relief and alcohol, are often used to ease physical and psychological symptoms.[2] It is common to abuse alcohol and pain medication, especially when symptoms continue over a prolonged period or are severe enough to interfere with everyday responsibilities.

Over the last ten years, rates of Alcohol Use Disorders have risen by 84% in women compared to just 35% in men. This is especially concerning when research indicates that alcohol consumption in women in their 50s is increasing.

So here is my call to action

  • I want women to stop thinking or believing that they are somehow flawed.
  • I want to see more professionals discussing Menopause and Addiction in the same sentence.
  • I want to see more women-only recovery groups that include open conversations about the signs and symptoms of PMS, Perimenopause and Menopause.
  • If you are a woman and if any of this resonates, please check out this site and remember you are NOT alone.
  • And if you are a professional, ask your organisation if they would consider signing up for the Menopause Champion Program.

Much like addiction, unless we take action to break down the stigma around menopause, those going through it will continue to suffer necessarily in silence and shame.

Remember – I don’t write for financial reward or gain. I just want to help share my lived experience with others, hoping it helps. And I love to write, so if ya fancy getting the occasional email (NO SPAM) with the most up-to-date blogs from yours truly, please feel free to subscribe at the bottom of the main page.

Love Fordy

AKA Unapologeticwriter





6 thoughts on “It’s time to talk about Menopause and Addiction in the same sentence.

  1. This is brilliant and definitely explains alot of my own brain foggiest, short term memory, raging moods, hairs appearing where they shunt lol.
    This is a definite must for women in recovery, really enjoyed reading this x

      1. Well said Tracey, there are too many instances of women’s health issues being ignored or dismissed, from young women I know with serious gynae problems being told it’s constipation or stress, through ignoring PMT and then as you say nobody considering perimenopausal symptoms worth considering. Women’s bodies are complex so everything needs to be looked at together (and we don’t need the opposite but related issue of everything being blamed on women’s hormones either!). I had a serious breakdown at the time I was starting the menopause and don’t know if that was a contributing factor, but I have to say, having come out the other side into quite a few years of being post menopausal, I feel mentally on a level like I’ve never really felt before , so hang on in there gals, not everything’s bad about getting older. Keep on speaking your truth Tracey xxx

        1. Thank you for the feedback Penny, you are right we don’t need the opposite but related issue of everything being blamed on women’s hormones either. Thankfully i finally feel like my hormones are balancing out.

      2. Thanks for this Tracey, I think it’s so important that this is talked about in relation to recovery.
        I was perimenopausal in rehab and early recovery and looking back it was an absolute nightmare, I relapsed a lot.
        Only after my second rehab when I was getting to the end of it did it actually stick and things have generally been a lot calmer since.
        I feel I would have definitely benefitted from the menopause being recognised in my care plan etc but there has never been any mention of it in any recovery organisation I’ve ever been to, apart from general chit chat amongst the women.
        It’s about time this changed really isn’t it, we could probably get a lot better outcomes for women if this age group if they were supported around this. X

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