Women, Eating Disorders and Substance Abuse

Some women strive to achieve what they perceive to be the perfect body. They obsess over what they eat, how much they weigh and how often they exercise. However, this desire to drastically lose weight and eat less could result in an eating disorder.

It is not easy to come to grips with an eating disorder. Diseases such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorders can consume everyday life. These women battle health problems, peer ridicule, and low self-confidence.

Some symptoms of eating disorders include:

  • Isolation
  • Constant worry or complaining about being fat
  • Frequently checking the mirror for perceived flaws
  • Leaving during meals to use the bathroom
  • Bumps or rashes on the knuckles from induced vomiting
  • Feelings of depression, disgust, shame or guilt about eating habits

To deal with these feelings, many women turn to drugs or alcohol. These substances temporarily numb their problems but create a new set of issues.

Studies Link Eating Disorders with Substance Abuse

A three-year study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse linked anorexia and bulimia to drug use. Women with eating disorders were up to five times more likely to abuse alcohol or illicit drugs than those without eating disorders.

Those who abused drugs are 11 times more likely to have eating disorders than those who do not have substance abuse issues. Girls who smoke, drink or use drugs are likelier to report past month eating disorder symptoms than those who do not use these substances.

Additional findings:

  • Women or girls with eating disorder symptoms were nearly four times more likely to use inhalants or cocaine.
  • Nearly 13 percent of female high school students took diet pills, powders or liquids to control their weight with a physician’s input.
  • Alcohol-dependent women suffering from bulimia reported higher rates of anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and personality disorders.
  • Hispanic girls were most likely to have fasted for 24 hours or more, or taken weight loss laxatives.

The report also found that 60 percent of teen girls in the study were trying to lose weight. This makes them particularly vulnerable to eating disorders and drug or alcohol abuse.

Prevention and Support

Eating disorders can harm your body and mind. Women living with the disease should seek immediate treatment. The Recovery Village, Orlando Recovery Center and Blue Horizon Eating Disorder Services, located in Florida, treat patients with eating disorders.

It is important to take care of yourself during and after rehab. Mayo Clinic offers tips on how to overcome the psychological effects of the disorder.

  • Stick to your treatment plan.
  • Talk to your doctor.
  • Don’t isolate yourself.
  • Talk to your healthcare providers.
  • Read self-help books.
  • Resist urges to weigh yourself.

You can help a friend battling these disorders in various ways. For example, you should avoid dieting around her, encourage healthy eating behaviors and do your best to reshape her definition of what a healthy body looks like.

Friends are important during this time, especially to someone who experiences low self-esteem, dissatisfaction with her appearance or engages in severe dieting. Offer advice and compassion, and encourage them to seek a rehab facility — especially if a substance use disorder is also present.


Written By: Matt Gonzales

Matt Gonzales - Writer for DrugRehab.com


Matt Gonzales is a writer and researcher for DrugRehab.com. He boasts several years of experience writing for a daily publication, multiple weekly journals, a quarterly magazine and various online platforms. He has a bachelor’s degree in communication, with a Journalism concentration, from East Carolina University.