Alcohol misuse can lead to alcohol addiction and various long-term health problems. One lesser known complication is the link between alcoholism and eating disorders. For some people, the two conditions can go hand-in-hand. So, what is the relationship between alcohol and eating disorders? Learn the answer, as well as information about alcohol rehab and medication assisted treatment for alcohol use, below.
What Are Eating Disorders?
Eating disorders are mental health conditions that involve severe disturbances in eating behaviors and the thoughts and emotions surrounding food. These conditions are serious and potentially fatal. People who live with eating disorders are preoccupied with weight, body shape, and food.
People typically develop eating disorders during adolescence or young adulthood. There are different types of eating disorders, and prevalence can vary based upon the specific disorder.
For example, within a given year, 1.2% of U.S. adults will experience binge eating disorder, and 0.3% will experience bulimia. The lifetime prevalence of anorexia is 0.6%, and this eating disorder is 3 times more common in women compared to men.
A significant portion of individuals with eating disorders have a co-occurring psychiatric disorder. Anxiety and mood disorders are particularly common among those with an eating disorder.
Types of Eating Disorders
There are three primary eating disorder diagnoses, each of which are described in more detail below.
People with anorexia severely restrict food intake, and they see themselves as being overweight, even when they are dangerously thin. There is a high risk of death with anorexia nervosa, because of health complications arising from starvation.
Signs And Symptoms Of Anorexia Nervosa
A person who has anorexia nervosa will show some or many of the following symptoms of the disorder:
- Highly restrictive dieting
- Appearing extremely thin or emaciated
- Fixation on thinness with an unwillingness to maintain a healthy weight
- Extreme fear of gaining weight
- Having a distorted body image (ie: viewing oneself as being overweight and being in denial that one is actually dangerously underweight)
- Deriving self-esteem from body weight/shape
- Physical evidence of anorexia, including muscle wasting and weakness, brittle hair and nails, dry skin, and growth of a fine hair over the body
It is also helpful to understand that there are two subtypes of anorexia: the binge-purge subtype and the restrictive subtype. Individuals with the binge-purge subtype of anorexia severely restrict their calories, but they will have binge/purge episodes during which they consume excessive amounts of calories and then purge the calories by vomiting, misusing laxatives, or excessively exercising.
The restrictive subtype of anorexia involves severe food restriction without binge/purge episodes.
Bulimia nervosa is characterized by episodes of binge eating, during which a person consumes large quantities of food, followed by purging behaviors like fasting, vomiting, misusing laxatives, or exercising excessively.
Signs And Symptoms Of Bulimia Nervosa
Those who have bulimia will show the following signs and symptoms associated with this eating disorder:
- Consuming significantly large amounts of food over the course of two hours (binging)
- Feeling a loss of control when binging
- Repeatedly using compensatory behaviors like laxative misuse, excessive exercise, vomiting, or fasting to compensate for calories consumed while binging
- Binging and purging at least two times per week, on average, over a period of three months
- Basing self-esteem on body weight/shape
- Physical signs like sore throat, swollen jaw, and decaying teeth from binging and purging
Binge Eating Disorder
Binge eating disorder, like bulimia, involves a loss of control over food consumption. People with this condition eat excessively large amounts of food (binge eating), but unlike those with bulimia, they do not compensate for binges through purging behaviors.
Signs And Symptoms Of Binge Eating Disorder
The signs and symptoms of binge eating disorder are as follows:
- Repeated binge eating episodes, during which a person consumes excessively large amounts of food
- Eating despite not being hungry
- Eating rapidly
- Eating to the point of being uncomfortably full
- Eating in secrecy because of being ashamed or embarrassed of the amount of food consumed
- Feeling distressed or ashamed about binge eating
Other Eating Disorders
While anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder are the three most common types of eating disorders, there are other conditions that fall under the eating disorder umbrella:
- Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder: This condition typically occurs in middle childhood, and people who have it will restrict the types of food they will eat. For instance, they may only eat a few “safe” foods. A person with this disorder may show little interest in food, and they do not consume enough calories to function or develop properly. Unlike individuals with anorexia, those with avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder are not fearful of gaining weight and do not have a distorted body image.
- Pica: A person with this eating disorder will repeatedly consume things that are not food. They may eat soap,chalk, or paper. This condition is most often diagnosed in childhood.
- Rumination Disorder: Those with rumination disorder will repeatedly regurgitate and rechew their food. After swallowing food, they regurgitate it, and then they either chew it again or spit it out.
- Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorder: People who fall under this diagnostic category have distorted body image or disturbances in eating behavior, but their symptoms do not meet the full criteria for a condition like anorexia or bulimia. Despite not meeting full diagnostic criteria for anorexia or bulimia, a person with this diagnosis will experience significant distress.