Substance Abuse and Eating Disorders

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, almost 50% of people with an eating disorder also abuse alcohol or drugs at a rate five times greater than the rest of the population.

Common substances abused by those suffering from an eating disorder; include: alcohol, illicit drugs, prescription drugs, and over-the-counter drugs.

Prescription drugs frequently abused are:

  • Steroids
  • Insulin
  • Minor Tranquillizers
  • Thyroid Medications
  • Psychostimulants


Over-the-counter drugs frequently abused are:

  • Diet Pills
  • Laxatives
  • Diuretics
  • Syrup of Ipecac
  • Weight Loss Supplements


Does the person abuse substances first or does the eating disorder come before? Both cases apply – a person will either abuse substances like psychostimulants, as a way to help lose weight and suppress their appetite. Or, the abuse of certain substances may cause side effects such as appetite suppression, leading to the development of an eating disorder.

A substance abuse problem can develop at any time throughout an eating disorder. Subsequently, the amount of weight lost while abusing certain drugs, may lead to the development of an eating disorder. Both can be used as an unhealthy coping mechanism, and in the long run, makes emotional issues and problems worse and still unsolved. Healthy coping mechanisms can be learned through attending addiction treatment and can put an end to the cycle of substance abuse and eating disorders.

While people who are suffering with eating disorders experience much higher rates of substance abuse than the rest of the population, those who suffer from bulimia are more likely than those suffering from anorexia, to abuse drugs (Krahn, Piper, King, Olson, Kurth, & Moberg, 1996).

It has also been proven that those who abused substances before they developed an eating disorder, have had a dependency on the drug for a longer amount of time and are dependent on a larger variety of drugs. On the other hand, those who suffered from an eating disorder prior to the substance abuse, are more likely to suffer from other psychological issues; such as: panic disorder, social phobia and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

According to a comprehensive examination done by CASA Columbia (The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse), the shared risk factors between substance abuse and eating disorders include:

  • Unhealthy peer norms and social pressures
  • Low self-esteem, depression, anxiety or impulsivity
  • Common family history
  • Occurrence in times of transition or stress
  • History of sexual or physical abuse
  • Unhealthy parental behaviors and low monitoring of children’s activities
  • Common brain chemistry
  • Susceptibility to messages from advertising and entertainment media


Shared characteristics include:

  • Linked to other psychiatric disorders
  • Obsessive preoccupation, craving, compulsive behavior, secretiveness and rituals
  • Experience mood-altering effects and social isolation
  • Difficult to treat and life threatening
  • Require intensive therapy
  • Chronic diseases with high relapse rates


If your loved one is suffering from substance abuse, call Awakenings For Women for a quality sober living program in Boca Raton.

Call 1-877-877-7272