Substance Misuse and Eating Disorders

eating disorders graphicMillions of Americans either have, or at one point in their lives had, an eating disorder.  

Just like with substance misuse, these disorders can be linked to unhealthy compulsory behavior, which can have devastating effects on a person’s physical and mental well-being. 

Unfortunately, many people struggle with an eating disorder and substance misuse at the same time. 

In fact, a 2003 study from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse revealed that 50% of people with an eating disorder also misused alcohol and illicit substances. 

Drug use often worsens the effects of an eating disorder. According to an article published on the wellness site Very Well Mind: 

“Patients with eating disorders who also have a [substance use disorder] have a more severe eating disorder and SUD symptoms, have higher relapse rates, have more severe medical complications, and are more seriously impaired than individuals with eating disorders alone.” 

Learn more about three kinds of eating disorders below: 

Anorexia nervosa. People with this eating disorder often have a lower body weight than is considered healthy for their age and height. They also intentionally eat less food because they are afraid of gaining weight. They try to control their weight through extreme diet and exercise. 

Bulimia. People with this disorder consume a significant amount of food (also known as bingeing) and then purposely vomit or take laxatives to try to compensate for binge eating. 

Binge eating. People with this disorder eat a large amount of food within a relatively short period of time. The person often doesn’t feel in control during the binge, and afterwards feels guilty. 

Go to the National Eating Disorders Association website for more information. 


What are the Substances that are Misused? 

People with eating disorders misuse both illicit and over-the-counter drugs. Those with anorexia take the substances to lose weight, while people struggling with bulimia take drugs to suppress their appetite, according to Very Well Mind

The illicit substances that are misused include: marijuana, cocaine/crack, hallucinogens, and opiates

The legal substances that are misused include: laxatives, diet pills, diuretics, and more.  


If you know someone struggling with substance misuse, please visit our ‘Find Help’ section for resources ( or ‘Help a Friend on CDP). 

If you know someone struggling with an eating disorder, please visit the National Eating Disorders Association’s website ( to learn about resources and treatment options. 


For more information about eating disorders, visit: (

National Institute of Mental Health (