Alcohol Abuse & Eating Disorders: A Concerning Issue

Woman Drinking Martini at Bar

For some people with poor coping skills, it is not uncommon for them to experience both alcohol abuse and eating disorders at the same time. Studies show that approximately 2 to 10% of individuals with Anorexia Nervosa, and 8 to 41% of those with Bulimia Nervosa, are also diagnosed with a substance use disorder [1].

Dangerous Coping Skills

Both alcohol abuse and disordered eating behaviors are often looked at as maladaptive coping skills. That is, they are used in an attempt to improve or overcome an environment or situation but do not do so adequately or appropriately.

Individuals often turn to maladaptive coping skills in an effort to cope with feeling a loss of control or because of an inability to experience negative emotions.

These are the same reasons many individuals begin to engage in disordered eating or alcohol use.

What may begin as an earnest effort to find a solution to a problem becomes a more colossal beast, one that falsely parades as stability and control but only leads to destruction and chaos.


Personality Traits

The Personality traits that leave an individual susceptible to alcohol abuse are similar to those seen in individuals with eating disorder diagnoses.

Some of these traits include a distorted sense of self, impulsivity, sensation-seeking, difficulty with emotional regulation, low self-worth, and a co-occurring mental health diagnosis or experience of trauma [2].

Both eating disorders and alcohol use disorder are also known to have a genetic predisposition [2]. This disposition can be coupled with messages an individual gets from family members or within their household and upbringing that increase their likelihood of developing either, or both, maladaptive coping skills.


Another aspect to consider in co-occurring alcohol abuse and eating disorders are that both involve addiction, whether through physiological responses or the behaviors themselves.

Man and woman fighting Alcohol abuse and eating disorders and has poor coping skillsAlcohol is an addictive substance because it alters body chemistry in a way that can make the brain and body reliant on using it.

Eating disorders are similar in that they alter how our bodies hunger and satiation cues, as well as our response to reward and punishment [2].

The behaviors of engaging in alcoholism or disordered eating can also become “addictive” in the sense that the body and mind begin to see these behaviors as the only solution. Despite causing damage to the mind and body, these behaviors become strangely comforting for the individual.


Because of the similarities above, it is crucial that both alcohol use disorder and an eating disorder are addressed simultaneously in treatment [3].

Many think of treating one, then the other, however, this causes a “chicken and the egg” situation wherein it is difficult to say which to address first.

They are both incredibly important, equally impactful, and should be addressed as such.

If you or a loved one are struggling with both alcohol use disorder and an eating disorder, seek out treatment centers that focus on healing from both at once.


[1] Grilo, C. M., Sinha, R., O’Malley, S. S. (2002). Eating disorders and alcohol use disorders. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism. Retrieved from

[2] Isabel, K. (2009). Lifetime substance abuse, family history of alcohol abuse, dependence and novelty-seeking in eating disorders: comparison study of eating disorder subgroups. Psychiatry & Clinician Neurosciences, 63:1, 83-87.

About the Author:

Margot Rittenhouse photoMargot Rittenhouse, MS, NCC, PLPC is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims, and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.

As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from multiple physical, emotional, environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on June 11, 2019
Reviewed & Approved by Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on June 11, 2019
Published on

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter Ekern is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He contributed and helped write a major portion of Addiction Hope and is responsible for the operations of the website.