Exploring The Links Between Anorexia and Alcohol Addiction

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Alcohol addiction and anorexia can be debilitating, affecting both your mental health and your physical health. However, most people see anorexia nervosa and alcohol addiction/ alcohol dependence as two separate entities – but we are here to explore the links between the two conditions.

Read on to learn more about alcohol addiction and the different types of eating disorders. We are also going to explore the links between alcohol and eating disorders – specifically alcohol addiction and anorexia nervosa.

What is Alcohol Addiction?

Alcohol addiction is a mental and physical illness that can have a negative impact on all areas of your life, from your relationships and finances to your mental and physical health. It is an illness characterised by a lack of control over alcohol consumption, despite the negative effects that may occur as a result of alcohol abuse.

Lack of control over drinking can include the amount you drink, the times you drink, or the frequency you drink. Some people with alcohol addiction may be unable to stop drinking once they start, or may not know their ‘limit’.

According to the UK Government and the NHS, the recommended alcohol limit per week is 14 units. Drinking too much alcohol can be harmful to your health – in fact, alcohol abuse/ excessive alcohol consumption has been found to be a causal factor in over 60 medical conditions.

Although alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction are not the same things, the two are linked – and both are forms of alcohol use disorder. However, alcohol addiction is the more severe form of alcohol use disorder.

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What Is An Eating Disorder?

Eating disorders can affect anybody, regardless of age or gender. An eating disorder is a mental health condition that can have many negative consequences. Eating disorders are characterised by the control of food to cope with negative feelings and situations.

Somebody with an eating disorder will have unhealthy eating behaviours – which typically involve either eating too much or too little or worrying about your body shape or your weight.

Read on to learn more about the different types of eating disorders, as well as the links between anorexia and alcohol use disorder/ alcohol addiction.

Types of Eating Disorders

There are many different types of eating disorders that have different symptoms and can affect your life in different ways – however, today, we are going to be focusing on the main three.

The three most common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, binge eating disorder (B.E.D), and bulimia. Read on to learn more about these three eating disorders.


Anorexia is a type of eating disorder that is characterised by the restriction of food intake. A person with anorexia may either avoid eating altogether or only eat certain foods/ cut out certain foods. Most people with anorexia will have a fear of being or looking overweight, even if they are underweight.

The diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa (according to the DSM-5) include having an intense fear of gaining weight, meaning that people with anorexia will worry intensely about becoming ‘fat’ – and this fear typically manifests itself through food restriction.

Food restriction is another diagnostic criterion. People with anorexia will consume fewer calories than their body needs to function – by eating small portions, skipping meals, not eating substantial meals, or not eating food at all. Food restriction can lead to significantly low body weight.

Another sign that you may have anorexia according to the DSM-5 is having a distorted body image – which means that you may have an exaggerated view of your body. If you have anorexia, you may think you are overweight – even if you’re severely underweight.

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder can affect people of any age, but it tends to be more common among those in their late teens and early twenties. It is characterised by eating an excessive amount of food in a short amount of time, leaving you uncomfortably full.

People with B.E.D may plan their binges in advance, and they may have certain foods set aside to binge on. Many people tend to feel guilty after binge eating, which is similar to bulimia nervosa.

Although the key symptom of binge eating disorder is eating a lot of food in a short period of time and not stopping despite being full, people may also eat when they’re not hungry, eat quickly, eat alone or in secret, or feel ashamed, guilty, or even depressed after binge eating.


Bulimia nervosa, known simply as bulimia, is an eating disorder that can affect anybody, although it tends to be more common in those aged 13-17. It also tends to be more common in females than males – roughly five times higher (0.5 females and 0.1% males).

People with bulimia will go through a vicious cycle of bingeing and purging. This involves eating a lot of food in a short period of time (binge eating), and then either making themselves throw up, exercising excessively, or using laxatives (purging).

Bulimia triggers can vary from person to person, but some of the most common triggers include hunger, stress, and sadness. People with bulimia may set strict rules to prevent themselves from gaining weight – for example, strict dieting or an excessive exercising regime.

However, it’s not easy to stick to strict rules regarding exercise or dieting – and failing to stick to these rules can lead to periods of binge eating – losing control over eating.

The binge period can leave you feeling ashamed and guilty – leading to a purge. This cycle can be difficult to break and can have negative effects on your mental and physical health.

Is There a Link Between Anorexia and Alcohol Addiction?

There appears to be high comorbidity between eating disorders and alcoholism – especially in young women. In this section, we are going to explore the links between eating disorders and alcoholism and consider the reasons why.

Alcohol and other drug use disorder (AOD) tend to be highly present in those with bulimia – although the reasons for this are currently unknown.

Typically, bulimia nervosa tends to develop before alcohol and other drug use disorders – and it is thought that other factors (aside from addictive behaviour) can contribute to bulimia nervosa developing in young women.

Anorexia tends to have lower rates of co-occurring substance use disorders compared to other eating disorders such as bulimia and binge eating, but that doesn’t mean that there is no link. People with bulimia may start binge drinking and then purge (vomit, exercise, or take laxatives), continuing the harmful cycle.

Anorexia nervosa and alcohol addiction can be a dangerous combination. Drinking on an empty stomach can increase the chance of alcohol poisoning, as well as memory loss and other alcohol-related issues and injuries.

Drinking To Lower Appetite

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, eating disorders and substance use disorders co-occur quite frequently.

Most people with anorexia nervosa will avoid drinking due to the ‘empty’ calories in alcohol. However, some people with anorexia may drink alcohol to soothe the negative feelings associated with eating – for example, to relieve the guilt or anxiety before or after eating.

It isn’t just alcohol that people with anorexia nervosa may consume – they may also take drugs such as cocaine, speed, or methamphetamines to suppress their appetites.

If you think you have an addiction to drugs or alcohol, or substance abuse is an issue for you, contact us today to find the right rehab for you.

Not Eating To Make Room For Drinking

Some people with eating disorders may restrict their food intake during the day to make room or save calories for alcoholic drinks – to prevent gaining weight.

However, alcohol doesn’t have any nutritional value, so this can lead to malnourishment as well as the negative physical and psychological effects associated with alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction.

The ethanol in alcoholic beverages enters the bloodstream much faster if consumed on an empty stomach – which can be dangerous and leave you feeling more drunk.

Alcohol Addiction Rehab

At Help4Addiction, we can help you to find the right rehab treatment for you, wherever you are based in England and Wales. In the UK, there are currently over 600,000 people that are dependent on alcohol, but only 18% of these people are currently receiving treatment.

Alcohol addiction can affect all aspects of your life, particularly your mental health and physical health. This is why alcohol rehab is so important – talk to our friendly team today to discuss your treatment options and to find the right rehab centre for you.

Although the treatment process can vary from clinic to clinic, most rehab centres follow the same three steps – alcohol detoxification, alcohol rehab therapy, and secondary treatment.

The first step (alcohol detox) can be difficult, and you may experience uncomfortable and unpleasant alcohol withdrawal symptoms. However, you must complete this stage in order to move on to the second stage of alcohol rehab – therapy.

Therapy in rehab aims at not only building your confidence but your overall well-being. It can help you deal with existing mental health issues and give you a further understanding of your addiction – for example, root causes and triggers.

If you have existing mental health issues such as anorexia, addiction specialists will find the right therapy for you, whether it be group therapy, CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), DBT (dialectical behavioural therapy), or one-to-one counselling with a qualified counsellor.

Eating disorder recovery and alcohol addiction recovery can be tough, which is why many people prefer rehab on an inpatient basis at a residential rehab facility.

Upon completing rehab, you may wish to continue therapy on an outpatient basis – in the form of secondary treatment. Secondary treatment can streamline the transition from rehab to your everyday life, and aims at preventing relapse.

Contact us today to discuss the next steps for you, and to find the right alcohol addiction treatment for you. We can also help you overcome drug addiction, whether it be prescription drug addictionor illicit drug addiction such as heroin addiction, cocaine addiction, or ketamine addiction.

About Author

Nicholas Conn

Nicholas Conn

Nicholas Conn is a leading industry addiction expert who runs the UK’s largest addiction advisory service and is regularly featured in the national press, radio and TV. He is the founder and CEO of a drug and alcohol rehab center called Help4addiction, which was founded in 2015. He has been clean himself since 2009 and has worked in the Addiction and Rehab Industry for over a decade. Nick is dedicated to helping others recover and get treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. In 2013, he released a book ‘The Thin White’ line that is available on Amazon.

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