Sad young woman sitting on the window drinks wine. Alcoholism problem. Black and white photography.
Published On: Sep 13, 2018|Categories: Eating Disorder Information|

The overconsumption of alcohol takes a toll on the body, as well as the psychological state. Bulimia nervosa is equally harmful, producing both physical and emotional effects. When these two conditions exist together in a state known as a co-occurring disorder, these effects can prove too much for the body to handle.

What is alcoholism?

Alcoholism (or alcohol use disorder) is defined as “a medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences.” Alcoholism ranges on mild to severe scale, but is considered a condition requiring both medical and psychological treatment. 

Individuals who suffer from alcohol addiction may experience particular physical symptoms, some of which include:

  • Nausea;
  • Dizziness;
  • Aggression;
  • Anxiety;
  • Shakiness.

Continued consumption of excessive amounts of alcohol can affect life in many ways:

  • Physical appearances, like dull and discolored skin, discolored/rotting teeth and hair loss;
  • Poor performance and/or attendance at work or school;
  • Engagement in risky behaviors, like driving under the influence;
  • Uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms when you stop or decrease alcohol consumption.

If you notice these or other alcohol consumption practices, you’re not alone.

What is bulimia?

Bulimia is the repeated act of overeating, followed by some form of purging in order to prevent weight gain from the excessive calories consumed. Purging may include induced vomiting, excessive exercise or misuse of laxatives or weight-loss supplements.

Bulimia, as primarily carried out in secret, is sometimes difficult to identify. However, certain signs may present themselves:

  • Dental cavities or discolored teeth, a result of frequent vomiting; 
  • Dehydration;
  • Constipation and stomach cramps;
  • Hair thinning;
  • Difficulty concentrating.

In addition to physical signs, other behavioral signs might be present as well:

  • Withdrawing from friends and family;
  • Hesitant eating around others;
  • Disappearing for long time periods after meals; 
  • Consuming excessive amounts of water or zero-calorie drinks;
  • Exercising frequently and/or obsessively.

Use the above points for reference if you suspect a loved one might be challenged by bulimia. Additionally, consider reaching out to a mental health professional, including our licensed clinicians, if you are concerned about the severity of the illness.

Consider reaching out to a medical professional, or even trusted family member, for help distancing yourself from the effects of bulimia and alcohol abuse.

A dual diagnosis: alcoholism and bulimia

Bulimia and alcohol abuse on their own present dangers to the physical and mental health of an individual and, when suffered simultaneously, can have an even greater damaging effect through the combination of their symptoms. Just as bulimia and alcoholism will present signs on their own, the combination of the two will present additional signs:

  • Changes in Weight – Because of the binging/purging behaviors, it is common for a client battling bulimia and alcoholism to experience weight fluctuations. These fluctuations are not healthy, and are instead the body’s way of trying to maintain stability despite alack of nutrients.
  • Drinking Alcohol Instead of Eating – Some people may avoid food all day, but engage in heavy drinking in the evening that leads to intoxication. This heavy intoxication results in purging, as the body tries to rid itself of excess alcohol.
  • Impulsive behaviors – Studies have pointed towards a connection between impulsivity and both bulimia and alcoholism, as binging tends to be an impulsive behavior. This impulse can contribute to a compensatory behavior, purging, as a means of coping with the feelings of disgust or guilt. Additional impulsive behaviors may also be present, such as reckless driving or promiscuity.

While this might be an overwhelming number of symptoms, recovery is possible with the right treatment team. 

The problem of co-occurring disorders

Individuals battling bulimia are twice as likely to develop alcoholism; and while anyone can suffer from this dual diagnosis, women seem to be especially likely to suffer from it in particular. It’s estimated that 30-35% of women seeking treatment for bulimia have a co-occurring alcohol use disorder, and 20-25% of women who are not currently seeking treatment have a dual diagnosis of bulimia and alcoholism.

Having both of these mental health disorders increases your chances of developing more severe symptoms, some of which include:

  • Severe anxiety and depression;
  • Greater chance of hospitalization for psychiatric problems;
  • Increased risk of suicidal behavior;
  • Difficulty functioning in almost all areas of life, from professional to social.

In order to remedy the problem of these co-occurring disorders, it’s important to find a treatment center that addresses both at the same time. With a dual diagnosis, it’s not enough to just treat the bulimia and hope the alcohol use disorder goes away, or vice versa. In order to treat the client fully, both need to be addressed together.

Getting help for bulimia and alcoholism

Co-occurring disorders are complex and require help from a medical professional, but are not impossible to treat. Our holistic treatment program can help you address both bulimia and alcoholism, providing optimal recovery.

If you or a loved one currently live with an eating disorder and alcoholism, we’ll help you start your recovery journey today. To schedule an appointment, or simply talk about options and gain more information, reach out at 610-644-6464. We look forward to hearing from you. 

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