USC researcher to look at the link between the menstrual cycle and alcohol use


Carolyn Barnes

Publish date

June 7, 2023


Researchers in the Department of Population and Public Health Sciences at Keck School of Medicine will explore the effects of the menstrual cycle on alcohol use in women. The project aims to shed light on the relationship between hormonal changes, emotional dysregulation, and alcohol consumption. Led by Raina Pang, PhD, of the Psychosocialbiology of Women’s Health & Emotion Research (POWER) Lab, in collaboration with the Research Triangle Institute (RTI) and researchers at the University of Chicago, the study is expected to provide valuable insight into women’s health and mental well-being.

Raina Pang, PhD. Image courtesy Raina Pang, PhD.

“The project is going to be looking at women across the menstrual cycle and examining whether menstrual cycle effects and hormonal changes impact alcohol use differently among women,” says Pang. “Our hypothesis is that women experiencing elevated emotional dysregulation during the premenstrual phase will exhibit increased alcohol use compared to those who do not experience such changes.”

The study builds upon previous research that has focused on characterizing menstrual cycle-related disorders in the mental health field, and it is the first to focus on alcohol use and the menstrual cycle specifically. While the project does not aim to diagnose premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), it seeks to investigate subclinical PMDD symptoms and their potential association with alcohol use. Ultimately, the researchers hope to identify how the menstrual cycle affects alcohol use in different groups of women.

To conduct the study, the research team plans to utilize biosensors to measure temperature and heart rate variability, which serve as biological indicators of emotional regulation. The devices will be sent to participants and worn to facilitate data collection. In addition, participants will participate in daily assessments on alcohol use and emotional states via mobile device. By leveraging this remote approach, Pang and her team aim to gather a diverse and representative cohort made up of people who menstruate and regularly consume alcohol.

As a researcher dedicated to women’s health, Pang notes the importance of studies like this. “Women’s health conditions are understudied,” says Pang. “We know there are sex differences in presentation… It’s really important to study women-specific factors in substance use as there are biological factors that are often overlooked.” Pang gives the example of a recent push toward hormone-based treatment for substance use but says more discovery is needed.

Pang emphasized her team’s findings could have significant implications for women’s health. “We may find that certain women are more susceptible to alcohol use during specific phases of their menstrual cycle, which can inform interventions and strategies to promote healthier behaviors,” she says.

An initial pilot study is expected to commence before the end of the year, and active data collection will begin in 2024.

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