Substance Use & EDs

It is not uncommon for someone struggling with an eating disorder to also struggle with using drugs or alcohol. Sometimes both issues start around the same time, and for others, one will come before the other. It’s not even unusual for substance abuse to pop up during or after eating disorder recovery!

There can be underlying things that contributed to both, such as depression, anxiety, and poor self-image. Both can be used as ways of coping with emotions and trauma, and sometimes people use substances to cope with the pain of their eating disorder. Eating disorders and substance abuse share a number of common risk factors, including brain chemistry, family history, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and social pressures. Other shared characteristics include compulsive behavior, social isolation, and risk for suicide.

What is “drunkorexia”?

Drunkorexia is a colloquial term that refers to altering eating behaviors to either offset for planned caloric intake from alcohol or to increase/speed the effects of alcohol. Not a clinical diagnosis and not necessarily indicative of a substance abuse problem, the term is often used in the context of college campuses, but disordered eating and binge drinking is a pattern that can be seen across all demographics.

Regardless of whether the behaviors become diagnosable conditions, the relationship between food restriction or purging behaviors and high levels of alcohol use puts individuals at risk for significant medical complications in the short term and long term. It’s important that these dangerous behaviors be identified and treated as soon as possible. 

Research on substance use and eating disorders indicate that…

  • Up to 50% of individuals with eating disorders abused alcohol or illicit drugs, a rate five times higher than the general population.
  • Up to 35% of individuals who abused or were dependent on alcohol or other drugs have also had eating disorders, a rate 11 times greater than the general population.

So if you’re struggling with and eating disorder as well as abusing drugs or alcohol—you are definitely not alone! While there is some overlap in treatment for eating disorders and substance use, it’s important to find a therapist who is skilled at substance use specifically.

Reach out for help and support

If you think you are or someone you care about is struggling with drug or alcohol use as well an eating disorder, read about our substance use therapy or click below to go ahead and schedule an appointment online.