Recent findings from an Australian research group point to increased risks for the onset of premenstrual syndrome in women who consume illicit/illegal drugs, especially when drug use begins at an early age.
Many women in the U.S. develop mild-to-severe symptoms of premenstrual syndrome at some point during their childbearing years. In addition, many women in the U.S. have a current or past history of illicit/illegal drug use. In a study published in April 2015 in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers from Australia’s University of Queensland used data from a long-term project to help determine if higher risks for PMS appear in women who consume illicit/illegal drugs. The researchers used information from the same project to help determine if age at first drug use has an impact on women’s PMS risks.
The term premenstrual syndrome (PMS) characterizes a group of symptoms that can appear in women as they near monthly menstruation. Common examples of these symptoms include a “down” or depressed mental state, appetite alterations, unexplained crying, an unusually agitated or tense mood, an unusually anxious mood, an unpredictable mood, a fluid retention-related rise in body weight, tender breasts, painful muscles, painful joints, reduced mental clarity, headaches, acne outbreaks, loss of energy and a withdrawal from social activities. Some women develop relatively mild or moderate forms of these symptoms, while others develop relatively severe forms. A debilitating case of PMS may meet the diagnostic criteria for a form of depressive illness called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).
No one knows precisely why any given woman develops premenstrual syndrome or why any affected woman develops mild, moderate or severe symptoms of the condition. However, several factors appear to contribute to an increased level of risk, including specific details of the hormone fluctuations that normally occur over the course of the monthly menstrual cycle and alterations in the levels of serotonin, a naturally occurring chemical in the brain and body that helps control mood and sleeping patterns. Unidentified symptoms of depressive illness may play a significant role in severe cases of PMS.
Girls, Women and Drug Use
The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration uses an annual project called the National Survey on Drug Use and Health to track the level of illicit/illegal drug use among all American women, as well as all girls over the age of 11. The latest reported results from this project cover the year 2013. In that year, 7.3 percent of preteen girls, teenage girls and women consumed a drug or a medication not sanctioned for legitimate use. Women typically use illicit/illegal drugs at a much lower rate than men. Girls between the ages of 12 and 17 also use drugs less often than boys in the same age range, although the difference is much smaller.
Illicit/Illegal Drug Use and PMS
In the study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, the University of Queensland researchers used information gathered from participants in the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health to identify the likelihood of PMS in women who consume illicit/illegal drugs. This project, begun in the 1970s, tracks various health risks in a large group of girls/women over the course of a lifetime. The current researchers used project data from a decade-plus span of time between 2000 and 2012; during that time, the participating women were between the ages of 22 and 39.
At the beginning of the period under consideration, more than two out of every five of the participating women had used an illicit/illegal drug at least once in the previous year. Almost one in 10 had initiated drug intake before age 15. The self-reported PMS rate for the group was roughly 35 percent. Over the next 13 years, drug use among the women tapered off substantially; however, PMS rates essentially remained steady for a number of years. Compared to women with no history of drug use, the women who consumed drugs in any one-year period had a substantially higher chance of experiencing symptoms of premenstrual syndrome. The researchers also concluded that adult PMS rates were higher in women who first consumed an illicit/illegal drug before reaching their 15th birthdays.
The study’s authors note that they did not establish a causal connection between illicit/illegal drug use and the risks for PMS. This means that they don’t know if drug use actually increases the odds of developing the condition.