It’s well known that drinking lowers a person’s inhibition, reaction timing and decision-making abilities. Many people find themselves looking back on nights of excessive drinking (or drug use) with regrets and guilt about their behaviors under the influence.
Many people find that overeating is one such behavior. Binge eating and drinking is something many people have experienced, but may not realize has deeper underlying causes and implications.
In this article, we’ll look at the causes of eating disorders and the relationship between alcohol and eating disorders.
Causes of eating disorders
Eating disorders are mental health conditions that affect a person’s thoughts, feelings and actions as they relate to food consumption. There are many eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia, binge eating disorder and pica to name a few.
These eating disorders all include issues regarding body image, weight, eating and functional habits and patterns. Eating disorders are serious conditions and potentially life-threatening. Eating nutritious meals regularly is essential to daily living, and the development of an eating disorder can disrupt normal functioning.
People of all ages, sizes, backgrounds and ethnicities can succumb to eating disorders, and the causes are as varied as the people who face them. Individual experiences can play into the onset of an eating disorder, as well as some of these common risk factors.
Biological factors such as hormone levels
A family history of eating disorders
Other mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety or a substance use disorder
A history of feeling ashamed of body image
Major life changes
Anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders can be impacted by these risk factors and others.
Comorbidity with eating disorders
Eating disorders are often observed in clinical settings to occur simultaneously with other mental health disorders. The presence of two or more mental illnesses is called “comorbidity.”
According to the National Eating Disorder Collaboration (NEDC), people who have existing eating disorders experience a higher likelihood of also struggling with another mental or medical condition. In fact, the NEDC states that of all those diagnosed with eating disorders, between 55 and 97 percent will experience a comorbid psychiatric disorder.
The most common comorbid disorders include mood disorders (such as depression or bipolar disorder), anxiety, PTSD and substance use disorders. These conditions can be present before or after the onset of an eating disorder, and it’s likely that their causes and symptoms are interrelated.
Alcohol and eating disorders
The presence of both alcohol and eating disorders is common. Not all individuals who face these conditions will receive a formal diagnosis of both conditions, but the National Eating Disorder Association estimates that up to 50 percent of those who have eating disorders abuse alcohol or drugs.
There are several possible reasons for the link between alcohol and drug use and eating disorders. First, as with many other psychiatric illnesses, individuals may self-medicate using substances. The temporary emotional and physical relief of drugs can alleviate distress, leading to a cycle of attempting to escape using substances.
Additionally, a person with an eating disorder, due to a fixation on weight gain and body image, may seek out substances that can lead to weight loss, such as methamphetamine.
There have been studies linking a person’s cravings for substances to hunger cravings. Since the brain receives these messages and processes them similarly, many people struggle to control normal eating patterns, hence the common phenomenon of binge eating while drunk.
Moreover, alcohol and illicit substances inhibit decision-making, leading individuals to behave in ways they normally wouldn’t. Decreased inhibitions, especially for those who abuse drugs regularly, can lead to poor decision-making when it comes to eating well.
Alcohol’s effects on eating disorders may be linked due to the body’s ways of metabolizing what it consumes. Individuals may avoid eating in order to feel the effects of alcohol more strongly or become so preoccupied with obtaining the next fix that they ignore the body’s need for nutrition.
Exacerbating factors with eating disorders and alcohol addiction
Whether or not you are struggling with an eating disorder or a substance use disorder, unhealthy dietary patterns or substance use can easily spiral out of control and turn into a full-blown mental health condition. In order to avoid the damaging effects of eating and alcohol use disorders, here are some things you can do.
Drink in moderation ( two or fewer drinks per day for men and one for women)
Don’t consume alcohol to avoid negative feelings
Only consume alcohol in settings that are safe and there is no social pressure to drink in excess
Maintain a healthy diet and exercise routine
Plan out your daily calorie intake to include nutritious meals first, then a drink
Ensure that you eat a substantial meal before consuming any alcohol
Understand your own metabolism and stop drinking when you start to feel the effects of alcohol
Alcohol’s effects on eating disorders can decimate a person’s personal life, career and sense of well-being. Letting either issue go unaddressed can lead to worse problems down the road. If you’re struggling with binge drinking, binge eating or both at the same time, reach out for help.
Tapestry offers state-of-the-art programming for eating disorder recovery. If you’re facing anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder or another condition, Tapestry can help you make a meaningful and intrinsic change. Get help finding healing today.