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Eating Disorders and Substance Abuse

Washington University researchers found that some of the same genes may be involved in alcohol dependence and eating disorders.

A recent study reported that genetic risk factors that may cause alcohol dependence or alcoholism have also appeared in men and women who suffer from binging and purging behaviors, bulimia, and for those who suffer from “compensatory behaviors” – better known as starvation, laxative use, or anorexia.

Genes appeared to account for 38 percent to 53 percent of the risk of developing these conditions, and some of the same genetic risk factors that make people susceptible to alcoholism also make them vulnerable to binge eating or purging, according to the study in the September issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

The findings support “the idea that there are common genetic factors contributing to alcohol dependence and these eating disorder symptoms,” lead researcher Melissa Munn-Chernoff, of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, said in a journal news release.

While other studies have looked at the link between substance abuse and eating disorders, this is the first study to look at men as well as women, Munn-Chernoff said.

Knowing the link between alcoholism and eating disorders can be an important factor in treatment, Munn-Chernoff says.

“When you go to an eating disorder treatment center, they don’t often ask questions about alcoholism. And when you go for alcoholism treatment, they don’t generally ask questions about eating disorder symptoms,” said Munn-Chernoff. “If centers could be aware of that and perhaps treat both problems at the same time, it would be a big help.”

Treatment centers like Palm Partners know there is a link between eating disorders and substance abuse, which is why they offer dual diagnosis treatment. Studies have shown that for people who suffer from substance abuse disorders and mental health problems (such as eating disorders) treating both issues simultaneously is the most effective. For full recovery, treatment must address the whole person, not just the substance abuse disorder.

If you or someone you know is suffering from addiction and a mental health disorder, contact us today at 800-951-6135 to learn more about our dual diagnosis program.


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