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By Boris M | 23 March, 2020 Published in Guides
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While bulimia and binge-drinking are some fairly well-known disorders, the fact that it’s pretty common for both to occur at the same time isn’t as well known.

While there are only theories about why this is, many of them examine the chemical imbalances that occur in the brain due to malnutrition or dependence on alcohol.

But first, what, exactly, is bulimia?

Bulimia is the tendency for someone to binge eat a lot of food and then try to vomit it back up or defecate the calories out using laxatives.

Some symptoms include eating large amounts of food then purging it shortly after, feeling scared or anxious about putting on weight, or being hyper-critical of their body.

Unfortunately, bulimia can be very hard to spot. According to Bulimia Help, binge-eating then purging can actually cause weight gain.

Common misconceptions about eating disorders provoke images of skeletal or extremely underweight people, not someone who’s slightly overweight. This is one of the many reasons why bulimia is actually a very dangerous eating disorder.

Bulimia Risks

People with bulimia tend to develop addictions to substances like drugs or alcohol to either help them lose weight or to numb any negative thoughts in their minds.

Binge-eating and purging in themselves are also ways to distract an individual from reality. This is one of the main distinctions between bulimia and anorexia nervosa, another common eating disorder that entails depriving or limiting the body to most foods.

What Is Binge-Drinking

Binge-drinking, according to the NHS, constitutes consuming a large quantity of alcohol within a short space of time, or, specifically drinking to get drunk.

The Office of National Statistics  (ONS) states that ‘binge-drinking’ for men means having over 8 units in one session, and more than 6 units in a single session for women.

Binge-drinking itself can lead to a variety of health issues but when combined with the physical risks of bulimia, the result can be extremely serious.

Bulimia & Binge-Drinking

People with bulimia may pick up a drink or two to aid in their escapism. However, various factors including age, weight, and the speed a person drinks means that “binge-drinking” is a hard term to define.

Sometimes bulimics will substitute food for alcohol or enforce strict boundaries on themselves to compensate for their bingeing episodes. The main aspects which link bulimia and binge-drinking is impulsivity.

An individual suffering from bulimia is often enslaved to impulsive behaviours such as binge-eating, ingesting abnormally large quantities of food and subsequently succumbing quickly to purging episodes.

This impulsive behaviour then can then transpire to other objects (such as shoplifting, compulsive exercising, risky sexual behaviours, or substance abuse.

It is not uncommon for someone living with bulimia to trade the ‘thing’ that they binge with: i.e. trading food-binging episodes to alcohol binging episodes.

Unlike bulimia, binge-eating disorder sees someone engage in binge eating episodes, but the person doesn’t feel a compulsory need to micromanage their weight.

Like people with bulimia, binge-eaters will frequently binge-eat and drink.

Unfortunately, binge-eaters will most likely have to consume higher amounts of alcohol due to having a higher than average weight, further contributing to developing a drinking problem.

Alcohol’s Effects On Appetite

According to healthfully.com, alcohol can actually make you feel hungrier. When someone becomes drunk, they tend to consume more food and are more likely to binge-eat than someone who doesn’t consume any alcoholic drinks.

A study done by the Indiana School of Health and Medicine found that most of the participants consumed more food after consuming alcohol and over 15% ate a lot more than normal.

In fact, a different study found that consuming a few glasses of wine can cause you to consume over 3 times the recommended daily calories over the subsequent 24 hours.

This is largely to do with the chemicals in alcoholic drinks transitioning your brain into ‘starvation mode.’ When intoxicated with drink, the neurons (Called AgPR) at the front of the brain associated with hunger go into over-drive

When people with bulimia consume a lot of alcohol, they are increasing the amount of food they consume and are more likely to feel incredibly guilty after their eating binge.

How Common Is Bulimia & Binge-Drinking?

Several studies have found that having bulimia puts a person at a higher risk of becoming a binge-drinker. Both disorders have similar symptoms such as stress and anxiety.

Research has also suggested the some of the reasons someone develops an addiction to alcohol are similar to the reasons someone becomes bulimic.

Having a propensity to become addicted to substances is a common cause in both. The feelings of guilt and shame associated with binge eating could also cause someone to attempt to numb themselves with alcohol.

A depression diagnosis associated with either bulimia or alcoholism increases the chance of developing the other disorder.

Causes Of Bulimia and Binge-Drinking

According to Professor Mark Brodie, an expert in physiology and biophysics, bulimia (binge-eating) and binge-drinking tendencies revolve around the release of dopamine in the brain. In order to produce more dopamine in the brain, more substance (food or alcohol) is required.

Listed below are some common causes of turning from bulimia to binge-drinking, or even vice versa. These feelings or reasons are natural in relation to these disorders:

When you deprive yourself of food then alter your brain with alcohol, you're actually altering the way your brain rewards actions.

Such alterations can cause your brain to develop unhealthy coping mechanisms and alterations to certain pathways in your body can cause the development of bulimia or alcoholism to become more likely.

If someone has a tendency to act impulsively, that can increase the chance of developing an eating disorder such as bulimia. Impulsivity tends to be an underlying factor of alcoholism and will thus make developing alcohol dependency much more likely.

When a bulimic feels guilty or shameful after binging and purging, that can become a catalyst for binge-drinking. Alcohol is frequently used as a coping mechanism to deal with negative emotions and if someone gets stressed out easily about their weight, they're much more likely to turn to alcohol to deal with these emotions.

Through the observation of several people with bulimia, it has been discovered that food is a sort of escape from stressful events. When showed images of food after a stressful situation, women with bulimia reacted differently than women without bulimia.

This study suggests that overcoming bulimia isn't just a matter of having enough willpower to do so. The brain chemistry is actively working against someone with bulimia.

What Is ‘Drunkorexia?’

Often called ‘drunkorexia,’ is the tendency for some anorexics to refuse eating food so they can consume alcohol without gaining any weight.

This disorder is somewhat common among college women despite the fact that both men and people who aren’t in college can develop this eating disorder.

While the amount of alcohol being consumed by drunkorexics might reach the required daily amount of calories, alcohol has absolutely no nutrition to it so malnutrition is inevitable.

In college, there is this common saying the “freshmen 15” where it’s somewhat common for women to gain about 15 pounds during their first year of college.

There is also the high pressure of drinking and partying all while staying thin. These unfair standards can cause women to choose alcohol over food and create some serious long-term damage to their bodies.

When someone first starts replacing their meals with alcohol, it might not be all that noticeable since it’s common to not lose a lot of weight. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for drunkorexia to really start harming someone’s body.

Signs of Drunkorexia

If someone frequently engages in binge drinking, but you never see them consume any food, they may have drunkorexia.

If you’re not quite sure if someone is binge drinking, watch and see if they’re having trouble staying awake, whether or not they’re vomiting, or if their breathing is irregular. If so, they need to receive help right away as they are at a serious risk of developing alcohol poisoning.

Dangers Of Eating Disorders and Alcohol Addiction

If someone has an eating disorder and is consuming copious amounts of alcohol at the same time, they are at a higher risk for a myriad of problems.

Some of the most serious problems associated with having an eating disorder and alcohol addiction are dehydration, anxiety, depression, and a weakened immune system.

Eating disorders can make current health problems even worse since the person isn’t getting enough nutrients in their body. Heart problems and even a complete failure of the heart can occur as well as problems with your liver and kidneys and in the most extreme cases, death can occur.

Co-occurrence vs Comorbidity

Comorbidity is when two or more disorders occur at the same time. In this case, that would be developing alcoholism on top of an eating disorder. Co-occurrence does not necessarily refer to two disorders occurring at the same time.

There are many theories to explain the disproportionate development of both eating disorders and a binge-drinking disorder occurring in a person.

Some of them have been detailed in this article and the most common ones are that someone who is trying to micromanage their weight and someone who develops an alcohol addiction is both trying to treat undiagnosed clinical depression.

Self-medication is common among people with undiagnosed mental illnesses and people tend to do whatever will make them feel better. In some cases, it’s binge-eating and then purging.

Treatments For Binge-Drinking & Bulimia

Below are 7 steps you can take in your life to help combat binge-drinking and bulimia. With the correct skills and support, you, or a loved one who is struggling with binge-drinking and bulimia, can find your first steps to recovery:

When going through your day, being aware of what happening is one of the best ways to begin recovering.

While you might need to seek professional help to fully overcome the disorder, you can begin to work on limiting the amount of alcohol you consume or how frequently you binge/purge.

Stay aware of how you feel when you wake up without a hangover or how that feeling of guilt associated with binge-eating isn’t there when you don’t eat too much.

Focusing on the fact that you can live a happy life without binge-drinking or eating is the first step to fully recovering from your eating and drinking disorder.

One of her biggest hurdles associated with overcoming any type of behavioral disorder or addiction is learning to cope through methods other than drinking alcohol or bing-eating.

There are many resources online to help you learn to cope in healthy ways. If you’re still struggling, it may be necessary to go to rehab and seek some therapy. It’s important to treat your emotional addiction as well as your physical one or you’ll never truly recover.

If you choose to seek therapy, you may participate in dialectical behavioral therapy. This specific type of therapy teaches you how to cope with all of the emotions you previously drowned out with alcohol and binge-eating.

When you’re overcoming just about any type of disorder, you’ll find that your mood oftentimes feels almost uncontrollable. You’ll feel anxious or depressed or just downright irritable.

Dialectical behavioral therapy will help you learn how to cope with the emotional rollercoaster you’re going through and give you tools to begin recovering.

Aside from helping you regulate your mood DBT will also help you get a handle on some of your impulsive behaviors. When overcoming your previous behavior disorders, you’ll probably find yourself with a burning urge to relapse, but DBT will help you practice doing what you should do rather than what you feel like you should do.

You made the decision to overcome your behavioral disorders and sometimes you’ll need a bit of a reminder why you chose to do so in the first place.

According to the National Institute on Drug Use, motivational enhancement therapy focuses on helping people realize the benefits of overcoming alcohol addiction or any other type of addiction or behavioral disorder [3].

This specific type of treatment focuses on helping someone find the motivation to receive treatment. Rather than giving the patient an ultimatum or making them feel pressured to seek treatment, MET helps the patient feel like they can recover and seek help.

While this type of therapy doesn’t work on every type of drug addiction, it has been found to work quite well with people addicted to alcohol.

Acceptance Commitment Therapy is a branch of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy that has been adopted extensively in the treatment of eating disorders. This specific type of therapy aims to help the patient develop a set of standards they’d like to keep and help them figure out what behaviors fall in line with those values and beliefs.

A common metaphor used in ACT is for the patient to imagine being a bus driver with a bus full of disruptive passengers that resemble the negative thoughts their eating disorder creates. This specific exercise helps the patient learn that they have control over their life and by not engaging with the “passengers” even if they’re very distracting.

Cognitive Remediation Therapy aims to help people with anorexia and obsessive-compulsive disorder cope with their inability to be easy on themselves.

Patients are urged to reconsider the destructive habits their disorders have caused and are taught much healthier alternatives that ultimately improve their life. This specific type of therapy has been proven to be quite effective in treating people with anorexia.

Whether you have anorexia, or bulimia, you are generally at a higher risk of developing an addiction to alcohol. If you or someone you love has any of these disorders, try to encourage them to seek help. These are very destructive disorders and can do some serious harm if not treated.

Dangers Of Supplementing Food With Alcohol

Drinking on an empty stomach is extremely dangerous. It’s part of the reason bars are legally required to serve food.

Drinking without having eaten anything beforehand makes it easier to suffer from alcohol poisoning, blackouts due to heavy drinking, as well as memory loss.

Someone is more likely to become dehydrated much easier if they’re already malnourished. Dehydration pulls out nutrients from the body and can thus exacerbate already serious malnutrition.

Binge drinking also creates an increased risk of developing alcohol addiction which can further the development of anorexia and make it much more serious than it already is.

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