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Alcohol and Disordered Eating

  • Nearly 50% of those struggling with an eating disorder are also abusing drugs or alcohol. (NEDA)
  • Eating disorders and substance abuse are independently correlated with higher than expected rates of death both from medical complications as well as suicide. (NEDA)
  • Although alcohol does contain calories, the end effect is a drop in blood sugar.  This is why drinkers notice "the munchies" and if a student is suffering from an eating disorder the low blood sugar may result in binge eating and perhaps trigger purging or restrictive eating behaviors---thus perpetuating the cycle of: deprivation, bingeing, purging/restriction, etc. - a cycle that is difficult to interrupt.
  • Because alcohol contains calories, a person struggling with an eating disorder may be tempted to avoid eating before a night of drinking.  This increases vulnerability to quickly become intoxicated and may even experience blackout, placing the student at risk not only for nutritional compromise due to inadequate nutritional intake but increased vulnerability in high risk situations such as assault or rape.
  • Alcohol acts as a diuretic and may result in dehydration with resultant fluid shifts as the body tries to make corrections in fluid status.  For those struggling with an eating disorder and who likely experience weight preoccupation, this type of weight shifting related to fluid status may be distressing and trigger worsening eating disorder symptoms.